FREAK OUT -- The Funkiest Superhumans of the Silver Age (part 2)
By John Jones, Manhunter from Marathon, IL
You could also check out www.angelfire.com/ny3/docnebula/index.html
where you'd find a whole buncha stuff that YOU, as the discerning Martian Vision reader with an actual attention span, would doubtless find amusing and interesting and entertaining and exciting and perhaps even enlightening. The inside scoop on the Busiek-Manhunter feud! Unpublished early work by Scott McCloud! The amazingly R-rated super-heroine gallery of the Late, Great Jeff Webb! And more fan fic, utterly deranged cartoons, and truly weird precis' and timelines by Your Humble Author, than any sane person would even want to think about shaking a stick at! (Look, let's get this straight: you can shake a stick at your own monitor all you want. You're just gonna look awful silly.)
MANDATORY DISCLAIMER: This article is not a scholarly, well annotated, incredibly and exhaustively detailed work about superhero funny books. It isn't! Go away! It has very few issue numbers, mentions hardly any actual calendar dates, and in the few cases where it does, is probably wrong. It is mostly an excuse for the guy typing this right now to ramble on and on about superheroes he knows well, knows vaguely, or barely has the slightest idea about, often mistakenly, but hopefully in a consistently entertaining fashion. Some of these characters, regardless of the bantering and occasionally even derisive tone, are among my Favorite Characters Of All Time. Others... are not. Either way, what brings them to this table is their freakishness in my eyes, and if you don't agree, well, that's why they put the BACK button on your browser, fella.
I continue to note that I actually took the bizarre step of writing to Tony Isabella to ask for his input and feedback on the various concepts and characters of his invention, or that he substantially influenced, which appear in this article. He has never acknowledged my email, and frankly, there's little reason he should, since maybe ten people read these things, and half of them are me under various different psuedonyms. (I'm not schizophrenic, but one of my alternate identities is.) Anyway, since I'm not writing up Black Lightning (I think) in this section of the article, I probably won't touch on Isabella's work much. (While Black Lightning is a really unbelievably STUPID character, and like many of Isabella's other creations, more notably at Marvel, is an egregiously blatant and inevitably untimely attempt to cash in on a specific fad with awful conceptualization and truly wretched execution, I don't consider the character to be freakish. Just stinky. But you never know, he might slip in if I do The Outsiders, who WERE, from any perspective, pretty frickin' freakish.)
As a last disclaimer, I'll note that as of now, the DC section of this thing is about one-quarter the size of the Marvel section. I attribute this to several factors: first, as noted above, for much of their Silver Age, Marvel was Weirdo Central, while DC was about as stolidly conformist as a publishing line centering around the adventures of a bunch of superhuman vigilantes wearing their boxer shorts over their long johns possibly could be, which means there were lots and lots more freaks at Marvel than DC. Second, and most importantly, I know far more about Marvel's Silver Age than DC's. So, not only are their fewer DC entries (at least, so far) but their write ups tend to be somewhat less detailed than Marvel's.
Having said all that, let's get funky what it's all about at least one more time:
We're heading right for the heart of DC's freakiness, not with Brother Power, the Geek, who is the epitome and embodiment of marginalized creative concepts but by not stretch of the imagination a superhero, but rather, with a character who stands very nearly at the center of the DC Silver Age's creative mainstream, if only because he's too portly to move quickly to the periphery:
Bouncing Boy -
There may be no greater statement of the profound differences between Marvel and DC's Silver Age product and characters than that implied by the fact that while many of Marvel's most popular, premiere, A level, title character superhumans qualify for inclusion in this article, at DC we pretty much have to go to the second and third stringers to find any real freaks. And there is no freakier third string character in existence than good ol' Chuck Taine, AKA Bouncing Boy, of the Legion of Superheroes.
Before I get into recounting the rather hilarious saga of Chuck, which simply defies the abilities of even the most humorless and earnest of Bouncing Boy fanatics (if such there could ever be) to describe in somber, serious, or respectful tones, I do want to note that I actually like the character of Chuck Taine quite a lot. The ability to self-inflate like a great big humanoid beach ball and bounce around the landscape certainly seems utterly ridiculous on the face of it, but in point of fact, while it's neither as powerful, nor as obviously utilitarian in a never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American Way, as, say, the full array of Kryptonian ultra-capacities, nonetheless, I think that given due consideration, it can be seen to be both a fun and useful ability that has many pragmatic applications.
Certainly, if I were offered my choice from the vast array of superhuman abilities established in comics, I'd pass over super-bouncing (most likely, I'd pick super-intelligence, since then, you can invent nanotech driven ultra-suits and jet packs and mind amplifying helmets and super power serums and like that, or even if you can't, you can still out think everyone else and probably build a really cool personal computer), but if, on the other hand, I were to actually gain the power of boinging along at high velocities in globular, impact resistant form, well, I wouldn't feel like I'd been cursed or anything. Bouncing down West Kennedy Boulevard with madly chortling abandon on my way to work, doubtless causing traffic snarls and car wrecks for blocks around me as drivers who really should be keeping their eyes on the road gave themselves near whiplash cranking their necks around to watch me go careening by at frankly insane velocities, would have to be more fun than taking the bus, after all.
Despite my earnest admiration for the character and his powers, it must immediately be admitted that it's difficult, if not actually impossible, to view Bouncing Boy with anything less than hilarity. Having gained the impressive but visually ludicrous ability to... you know... BOUNCE... by accidentally drinking an experimental plastic formula instead of soda-pop at a ball game (no, really!), Bouncing Boy found himself turned down by the Legion for membership the first time he applied in what must have been record time.
Fortunately for him, he soon came across the tableau of some idiotic crook with an electric ray gun (or something) who had just stunned Saturn Girl and was apparently about to kill her, so, before you could say "Look, it's the Goodrich blimp!", ol' Chuck had bravely inflated himself and bludgeoned the nefarious thug into unconscious with his hurtling, spheroid, rubber-like ass. See, because he wasn't grounded, the electro-blasts of the goon had had no effect on him, and... well, you get it.
Faced with this undeniable evidence of Bouncing Boy's possible usefulness in certain extremely limited and utterly contrived situations... or, more likely, moved by gratitude to the big lug, and not wanting to be really mean and turn him down again after he'd saved Saturn Girl, however ridiculously, especially when he was giving them puppy dog eyes... the Legion admitted him. Doubtless Brainiac 5 pointed out that this would logically mean that in the future, they couldn't really reject ANYone any more, for any reason whatsoever, but no one ever listened to Brainiac 5 anyway. Perhaps if Dream Girl had had a horrible premonition about Comet Queen... but noooooooo.
Regardless of his apparent and inescapable ridiculousness, Chuck actually made a pretty good Legionnaire. While some mean spirited Modern Age Legion scribes enjoyed depicting Chuck as a bumbling moron useful only for slapstick purposes, in point of fact, more definitive Legion scripters like Jim Shooter and Cary Bates were always careful to show Chuck's innate decency, kindness, generosity, bravery, resourcefulness, and general heroism. The fact that Chuck is fairly ridiculous looking in action has often been used to justify rampant fan derision for the character over the years, but this has always pretty clearly been cover for the real issue, that being, most fanboys don't like the character simply because he's fat... a fact that comes out generally within the first thirty seconds of any conversation with anyone who really professes to hate the Chuckster.
I myself find it gratifying that Chuck, the fat boy and easily most mocked Legion member, if not superheroic character, of all time, managed to score one of the greatest romantic coups in the history of four color fantasy by nailing Duo Damsel, a character who, having the power to divide into two identical bodies, both of whom share the behavior of the original, were both, then, demonstrably in love with Chuck Taine.
The romance was initiated under Jim Shooter, who has stated in interviews that he did it in emulation of a situation he had seen occur in his own high school, where a shy, pretty girl had had a crush on a popular jock type, who had never paid any attention to her, so eventually, she'd started dating a pudgy nerd instead, and wound up being very happy. In the Legion of that time, Shooter established that Duo Damsel had a crush on Superboy that the clueless, probably latently homosexual Dolt of Steel did not return (what a maroon! What an ultramaroon!), and, in lonely despair, had eventually noticed the more attentive and less aloof Bouncing Boy, instead.
Later, under Cary Bates, Chuck and Luorno wound up getting married, and even the lugubrious Paul Levitz and the sniggering Keith Giffen never tried to undermine that marriage. (Bates, to make sure everyone in the audience understood just how lucky, lucky, LUCKY Mr. Taine was, liked to write sequences where, for example, Duo Damsel, split into two bodies, would be playing volleyball in a Legion gym using Chuck in his inflated form as a ball... ::drool::.. after which, both Due Damsels would kiss Chuck simultaneously, on both cheeks at once - not THOSE cheeks, you letch, this was a Code Approved comic! While this was all innocent and above board, for those of us with sufficiently dirty minds, it was also pretty clear exactly what it all stood for, and any red blooded Legion fan who wouldn't have traded a couple of Ultra Boy's incisors for a chance to be Bouncing Boy For A Long Holiday Weekend With Luorno clearly was still singing soprano in their 7th grade choir.)
Beyond his astonishing romantic good fortune, Chuck rarely did much of anything distinctive, and was, it must be admitted, mostly used in the Legion, when he appeared at all, for comic relief. A Legion that would vote in Dream Girl as President is a Legion that would never put itself willingly under the leadership of Bouncing Boy, alas.
Matter Eater Lad-
While I can't remember this guy's real name, the fact that he had the ability to eat anything, because he was a native of the planet Bismoll and on Bismoll, all the inhabitants had developed the ability to eat anything and survive because their entire ecosphere was toxic, certainly qualifies him as a bona fide freak. Fred Hembeck has rendered Matter Eater Lad the dubious distinction of being the Most Ridiculous Superhero of All Time, and while I myself tend to think both the Fat Fury and the Fabulous Frog Man have Matter Eater Lad beat all hollow, still, I'm not going to argue that Matter Eater Lad is at the very least a strong contender for the trophy of Most Ridiculous Superhero of All Time Ever Presented In A Nominally Serious Superhero Comic.
Leaving aside the utterly nonsensical origin whereby we are supposed to accept that Earth humans, upon colonizing a distant, Earth like world sometime within the next millenium, somehow in that extremely short period of geological time manage to 'evolve' abilities well outside the normal biological human range (in this particular case, where Bismollians have 'evolved' the ability to eat fargin' ROCKS and obtain nutrients from them, absurdly far outside that normal human range)... well, as I say, not dwelling on that overly (since we'd have to then point out how amazingly, mind bogglingly STUPID nearly every LSH's member's origin is, since the vast majority of them are along the same lines), we're still left with a guy whose major power is that he can eat anything and live.
I mean, come ON now.
For a while there, for reasons I couldn't even remotely begin to explain (because I don't know them) Matter Eater Lad was really really fat in appearance, giving him the distinction of being the second fat superhero in existence prior to WATCHMEN's Nite Owl II, and the Legion the all time distinction of being the only superhero team in history to have TWO, count them, TWO, visually obese members. After a while, ME-Lad slimmed down again, and the last we saw of him (as far as I myself am aware) he'd been driven insane after eating the Miracle Machine, which he had to do in order to stop some otherwise unstoppable cosmic menace which drew its power from said lame plot device. (The Miracle Machine was completely indestructible; Superboy, Ultra Boy, and Mon El between them couldn't so much as put a scratch in its fine matte finish; Brainiac 5 couldn't come up with anything to hurt it either, and then someone had a really bright idea... 'I know, we'll get Matter Eater Lad to EAT it!' The fact that this story was scripted and drawn by Jim Starlin isn't anything that makes anyone who read it feel particularly good about Starlin's abilities as a writer.)
Anyway, that's the sad, freaky story of Matter Eater Lad, may he rest in gibbering non-peace.
Having started out with perhaps the freakiest Silver Age member of the Legion of Superheroes besides Tellus, about whom I know nothing except that he's damned ugly and apparently telepathic, I thought I'd take a moment to dwell on the whole Legion of Superheroes deal en toto, as it were.
The Legion, originally created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino, of all people, in a Superboy story published in ADVENTURE COMICS, while not quite a freaky concept (to be a 'freak' to my mind, you have to go beyond unique, which the Legion certainly was and remains, and at least somewhat into the monstrous, icky, substantially deranged, or, at the very least, being a 'thing that makes you go hmm', which the Legion really doesn't) is certainly one that was unprecedented in comics at the time and has been pretty much unimitated ever since.
Oh, sure, one can trace back the thematic roots of the Legion to the Li'l Rascals and the Simon-Kirby 'kid gang' comics of the Golden Age, which included such stalwarts as the Boy Commandos and, perhaps more tellingly, the Newsboy Legion, but, nonetheless, if the Legion of Superheroes was simply a Simon-Kirby kid gang with super powers, the fact that they were conceptualized as a super powered kid gang inhabiting a near-Utopian far future built on bright, shiny, atomic powered scientific progress (to the extent that the universal law enforcement body is known by the pleasantly futuristic, if utterly nonsensical, title of The Science Police) certainly differentiated them markedly from the previous incarnations of the whole kid gang concept.
Simon-Kirby kid gangs tended to be a group of tough male children doing battle with non-costumed crime and other social ills in a nightmarish modern environment (the Newsboy Legion lived in the aptly named Suicide Slum, while the Boy Commandos saw actual combat on the front lines, and behind enemy lines, during World War II) while the Legion, on the other hand, seemed for the most part to be a social club of super powered, clean cut, ridiculously WASPy teenagers who had nothing more pressing to do than take time machine jaunts into their distant past so they could haze their hero and historical inspiration, Superboy, with a bunch of rigged entrance exams.
Yet, even so, the Legion was never particularly freakish, and against the back drop of the Weisinger era Superman continuity, they were actually kind of bland. Still, the Legion did give direct rise to some undeniably freakish characters. We've already covered Chuck Taine, without a doubt the most freakishly ridiculous member of the LSH, and I've mentioned Matter Eater Lad in passing. But now we'll get a little bit into some of the Legion's offshoots, like:
The Fatal Five -
Many of the Fatal Five weren't actually freakish. Um... okay, let me take that back. One of the Fatal Five, the Emerald Empress, wasn't actually freakish. I grant you, she was this gorgeous chick with an amazing body and bright green hair who had no apparent superpowers except complete mental control over this big floating eyeball that hovered around over her head and could apparently do anything... okay, maybe she was a little freakish. Still, she seems like a resident of Mayberry, R.F.D. compared to her teammates:
Tharek - I think this was his name. Leader of the Fatal Five, Tharek, or whatever the hell his name was, had a body that was half biological and half machine, and the division line was vertical, running from his head down to his crotch. Thus, half his brain was computerized, which made him really smart, and I presume the machine half of his body... one arm, one leg, and presumably, half his dinger... were really strong, too. In addition to being really smart (supposedly, let's remember he kept getting beat by a bunch of teen agers with astonishingly goofy powers), Tharek also had mental control over the next, even more freakish member of the Fatal Five:
Validus - a big humanoid monster with a transparent brain case. Validus apparently was not sentient and was the equivalent of a giant space gorilla with a really gross looking head who in addition to having enormous strength and invulnerability, could also fire 'brain bolts' of some sort from his exposed grey matter. Yes, he was totally disgusting. Whenever Tharek, for some reason, could no longer exert control over him, Validus tended to fly away into outer space, so the trick with him (which the Legion quickly learned) was not to directly fight him (because he'd just kick your ass) but to smack the living crap out of Tharek, to disrupt Tharek's concentration.
Mano - I don't know what was up with this guy. He wore a bubble-like space helmet on his head that kept his facial features in silhouette so we could never see what he looked like, and one of his hands would dissolve anything it touched. Why anyone ever had the remotest scintilla of a hard time with this loser in an era where nearly everyone packs a laser pistol I couldn't tell you, but Dave Cockrum drew him well.
The Executioner - like Marvel's Asgardian villain of the same name, this guy had a big axe. However, his axe was atomic, or something equally insane, and could destroy anything it touched. (You have to wonder what could possibly be going through the mind of someone in the 30th Century who decides to design and build a great big two handed executioner's axe with futuristic nuclear technology that will allow it to destroy anything it touches. I mean, wouldn't it be easier to just build a ray gun?) Again, if anyone ever had 'please shoot me in the head with a distance weapon' tattooed on his chest in big bright red letters, it had to be the Executioner. Yet, for some reason, the Legion members who actually had powers that worked at a distance never confronted this whacko, instead, it was always the ones who had to get close enough to punch his lights out that fought him, which generally necessitated a lot of dodging first.
Moving on from the Fatal Five, one of Jim Shooter's perhaps less illustrious creations, we come to:
The Legion of Substitute Heroes -
Somebody - I think it was Ty Templeton, or someone with a name like that - did this amazingly hilarious parody Secret Origin of the Legion of Substitute Heroes which still stands as one of the greatest pieces of comic book comedy ever published. Unfortunately, the Substitute Legion was, in fact, originally created as a very serious concept, one that was almost certainly intended to offer validation and inclusion to poor kids who felt like social outcasts and geeks (in other words, the entire Legion audience) who were, perhaps, feeling a bit marginalized by the tendency that the Legion had shown, after being in existence for quite some time, to seem like a snobby, elitish 'in group' that only accepted 'cool kids', much like the high school fraternities that were all the rage throughout the American school system at the time.
In short, the Substitute Legion was meant to be a clique for losers, and as such, to teach the audience a valuable lesson about being judgmental and mean and snotty towards, well, nerds, especially the nerds who were assumed to be buying the Legion's adventures.
The first Substitute Legion story, in its actual presentation, is rather sweet. The Substitute Legion actually manages, by banding together and using their seemingly useless powers in an admittedly contrived manner, to foil an alien invasion. Nonetheless, the idea was pretty much flawed from the start. By the time the Sub Legion was launched, the Legion itself encompassed some characters who were, from a power level point of view, pretty astonishingly useless... like Light Lass and Star Boy, who had the powers, respectively, to make objects either lighter than they were, or heavier than they were, or, well, Bouncing Boy, whose presence at that time in the Legion should simply have made it both impossible and utterly ridiculous for the Legion to ever reject any other applicant with an original super power again with anything like a straight face, or at least, without being concerned that they would be immediately sued for discrimination.
Certainly, none of the rejectees who eventually became members of the Sub Legion could have failed to prevail in such a lawsuit, since the Legion would have had to somehow coherently argue that the likes of Night Girl, who had enormous super strength, but only at night, or Chlorophyll Kid, who could enhance or retard the normal growth rate of plants, were in some substantive way LESS useful than good ol' Chuck, whom you can see, Your Honor, is just amazing at... er... beach picnics, when we forget the volleyball... um...
Of course, even with the presence of Bouncing Boy in the group, the Legion still had legitimate excuses to reject applicants. To be a member, you had to have a unique super power (something Legionnaires tried hard to say with a straight face when Ultra Boy, Mon El, Superboy, and Supergirl were all sitting on the Membership Panel during any particular try out day), your power had to be useful in some way (again, see 'Bouncing Boy' and 'Matter Eater Lad' for obvious exceptions to this rule) and your power shouldn't be, in fact, an actual menace to your fellow Legionnaires (as was that of recurring joke applicant Infectious Lass, whose power to 'make people sick' frequently seemed to go astray in hilariously catastrophic ways whenever she showed up for a demo). As seen above, the first two were, at best, inconsistently applied, and therefore, should not have been applied at all, and the third can't be seen to apply to any of the various members of the Sub Legion, which to the best of my recollection, included -
Polar Boy - leader of the Sub Legion, he had the fairly typical superhuman power of generating intense cold (I say fairly typical, because characters from Marvel's Iceman to DC's Mr. Freeze have used similar powers to devastating effect in superhuman combat). It's worth noting that it may well have been Polar Boy's really dorky costume that kept him out of the Legion initially, since eventually, the Legion relented and let him in, where he was a very effective member and even became their leader for quite a while.
Night Girl - a flawed serum created by her father gave this large breasted chick Kryptonian levels of superstrength... but only in the absence of direct sunlight. Leaving aside the fact that Brainiac-5 should have been able to either adjust the serum in a few minutes in the lab, or come up with some sort of forcefield projection that would have kept her permanently in shadow, this is still a fairly impressive power. It has a limitation (as noted, easily overcome) and it is oft duplicated in the Legion, but really, who cares? She has large breasts and a picture of an owl on her chest! Let her in, for God's sake!
Stone Boy - Had the ability to turn himself to stone. Unfortunately, when he did this, he could no longer move, so... well, yeah, this wasn't a particularly useful power, unless Mon El or Colossal Boy happened to need a big heavy bashing weapon. Nonetheless... well, never mind, okay, no argument, this guy was substantially less useful than Bouncing Boy. Although I suppose he could have at the very least run at bad guys really fast and then turned into stone right before he crashed into them.
Chlorophyll Kid - as mentioned, this li'l fella had the ability to increase or retard plant growth. Yay. However, while he might not have been of great use in combat, he'd have been an asset in the Legion greenhouse, or in any deep space environment relying on hydroponics; at the very least, the Legion should have given some thought to hiring him as a groundskeeper. Much though we geeks want to think otherwise, it can't ALL be about fist fights with super villains.
Color Kid - This particular loser had the ability to change the color of any object to any other color, at will. Okay, leaving aside the fact that color is an aspect of light, and has to do with the frequencies of the energy bonds between the atoms of a particular substance, so the capacity to change which wavelengths of light were being reflected by a particular object should actually be pretty goddam powerful, at least in potential, we still have a character whom, I would think, could be fairly effective, since he should have, at the very least, been able to turn things invisible, and also project great big swatches of impenetrable darkness (or, if not darkness, then, like, bright red) pretty much at will.
(Lest you think these are ridiculous applications of a ridiculous power, let me remind you that this was the Silver Age at the DC Universe, and if someone was defined as having the ability to change the color of anything to anything, then they could certainly change, say, the color of the air around Validus into a glaring hot pink that would be impossible to see through, or, for that matter, for most people to even look at without wanting to throw up.)
Color also has proven capacities to manipulate people's general emotional state, so while Color Kid's powers might certainly have required a little thought to use well, he was far, far from useless.
In point of fact, Color Kid did get to demonstrate his frankly ridiculous power levels during one story where aliens, or someone, had surrounded the Earth with a ring of Green Kryptonite dust, which for some insane reason, everyone from the Science Police on down through Mon El and Ultra Boy and, well, Superboy and Supergirl in lead suits, was powerless to remove. It looked like Superboy and Supergirl were going to have to stay inside and watch TV forever, but then, Ka-ZOW!, Color Kid changed the color of the Kryptonite dust from lethal (to Kryptonian mammals) green to lethal (to Kryptonian plant life) white. So everything was okay again, because I'm here to tell you, there ain't a whole lotta Kryptonian plant life on 30th Century Earth (and any that there was, apparently is no longer a problem).
Kid Psycho - I'm not sure if Kid Psycho (whom we should be generous and remember was not given that particularly sociopathic sounding name in the modern era, but was rather created sometime in the early 1960s, most likely) was a member of the Sub Legion, or a Legion Honorary Member. The Legion did have a few Honorary Members, just to further rub the nose of the Sub Legion in just how pathetic a bunch of rejects they were, and they included Lana "Insect Queen" Lang (she had a magic ring that gave her the really gross power of transforming parts of her body into insect equivalents, which I can't imagine anyone not completely deranged actually wanting to do, and certainly, I never want to see drawn ever again anywhere), Jimmy "Elastic Lad" Olsen (he had a special formula that gave him stretching abilities; I'm not sure if anyone has ever said so, but most likely it's the same formula the Elongated Man uses in the 20th Century), Dr. Midnite's owl Hooty, and, whenever they weren't actually on active duty, Superboy and Supergirl.
Okay, okay, I'm lying about Hooty. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.
Anyway, Kid Psycho was either an Honorary Member or a member of the Sub Legion, I don't know which. But he was this human psionic with a very large head that he wore a turban around (I am totally not kidding) and he had the power to project an indestructible force field, which is kind of cool, except any time he used it, he took a year off his expected life span.
(With a power like this, one anticipates certain unpublished, behind the scenes dialogues like:
COSMIC BOY: Cruising comets! Tisrock McGalaxy, Universal Bruiser, is about to reduce the continent of Africa to a fine powder and then snort it up his vast, celestial nostrils! Quick, Kid Psycho, protect the hapless African denizens with an impenetrable force field!
KID PSYCHO: [firmly] NUH uh.
LIGHTNING LAD: Aw, c'mon, billions will die if you don't! Geez! Don't be such a baby!
KID PSYCHO: Solly, Chollie. My life expectancy is already down below that of a WWII soldier tasked to discovering new mine fields with his feet. Go beat this McGalaxy guy up. Isn't that what you guys do?
LIGHT LASS: But he's really really mean! I might break a nail.
BRAINIAC 5: Tell you what, Kid... you do the impenetrable force field thing, I'll let you borrow my completely lifelike Supergirl android for the weekend.
KID PSYCHO: [thinks about it] Tempting... but... NO.
BRAINIAC 5: Okay, okay, I'll build you one all your own! And you can use mine until I get done!
KID PSYCHO: [weakening] Hmmmm... well... can you throw in a Robin the Boy Wonder robot, too...?
CHEMICAL KING: Robin the Boy Wonder robot... what the hell....?
COSMIC BOY: [shuddering] Never mind, dude, we don't even want to know, it's a deal, now make with the impenetrable thingie, okay?)
So, anyhow, that's the freaks in or associated with the Legion of Superheroes. I should probably mention Timber Wolf, who isn't all that freaky a character, really (he's super agile and has super strength) except for the fact that when the Legion first ran into him, he told them he was actually an android (i.e., a humanoid robot) who had been built by some whacked out super scientist.
TW really believed this, because the super scientist was messing with his head for some reason I can't remember, and it really bummed Light Lass out, because she had the major hots for his assumed-to-be-android ass. However, in the end it turned out that Timber Wolf was actually a real boy, so he could join the apparently rabidly anti-android Legion. (I remember reading this story and wondering just what the hell made the Legion so snooty; the Avengers and the JLA both had androids, after all. In fact, now that I think of it, the Legion HAS an android member... Brainiac 5... and he even got to pork Supergirl! So what their damage was regarding Timber Wolf I don't know; back then, he didn't even have weird hair yet.)
I should also mention godawful occasional member Tyroc, who was, I believe, created by Cary Bates (sorry, Cary), doubtless at the insistence of DC's editorial staff, upon them looking around at some point in the mid 70s and discovering that the Legion was, with the exception of the orange-skinned Chameleon Boy and green hued android Brainiac 5, embarrassingly Caucasian (and as they had like 30 members by then, this just looked... well, it looked pretty Ku Klux Klannish). So Cary came up with Tyroc, a black character in a dreadful Mike Grell costume who had a baaaaaaaad attitude and, basically, the powers of Marvel's The Banshee.
Tyroc, thankfully, appeared but little in the Legion, and these days, no one seems to really care that the Legion (or rather, that pack of hosers that has taken the Legion's place since Crisis) apparently has no non-white characters at all. (And as I don't follow the modern Legion closely, or really at all - and I'm happy and proud to have it be so - I'm not even sure this is true. Maybe they got a spic. I couldn't tell you.)
(Sigh. Okay, that's really non-PC of me, even though I am, in my use of the word 'spic', trying to make an ironic, dry understatement on the sheer artificiality of superhero teams' long tradition of including one token minority in an otherwise relentlessly Caucasian group, and in point of fact, I have as little racial bias in my make up as a 40 year old Evil White Male can have who spent most of his childhood in upstate New York. I'll even note that I not only have nothing against spics, I actually find many dark haired, doe eyed, long limbed, bronze skinned spic beauties to be really amazingly hot. So I'll apologize to those whom even the ironic and humorous use of a denigrating racial epithet offends, and move on.)
Oh, and wait, I can't finish off discussing the freakish accessories to the Legion of Superheroes without lavishing a little journalistic attention on:
The Legion of Superpets -
You only think I'm kidding.
No, really, the Legion of Superpets was actually an honest to God staple of Silver Age, Weisinger era Superfamily stories. The Legion of Superpets included such stalwarts as Krypto, Hound of Steel, who was an actual Kryptonian dog and how he survived the explosion of Krypton I cannot, at this moment, remember; Streaky the Super cat, who was actually Linda (Supergirl) Danvers' normal pet cat who got exposed to X-Kryptonite and gained super powers; Beppo the Supermonkey (I am not either kidding and I have no idea where the hell he came from or what he was), Comet the Superhorse, who deserves a paragraph all his own and is gonna get one, and Proty II, Lightning Lad's giant space amoeba shapeshifter pet (Proty I had sacrificed its life force to resurrect Lightning Lad some time before).
(X-Kryptonite, just to brain boggle you further, was an artificial form of Kryptonite created in an Earthly lab that was the only known form of Kryptonite that would have any effect on Earth humans... and, er, cats, apparently. Like Red Kryptonite, each piece would only work once on any particular Earth native and each piece had a different unpredictable effect, however, unlike Red Kryptonite, the effects of X-Kryptonite were permanent. Somebody go get me that piece Streaky was exposed to, okay?)
As to Comet the Super Horse, this truly disturbing character, who was one of Supergirl's favorite pets, was in fact a guy from ancient Greece who had fallen afoul of Circe the Enchantress (Circe was kind of a recurring villain for Silver Age Superfamily members) and been transformed into a horse, who, oddly enough, had Kryptonian like super powers. (Don't look at me like that; I didn't make this up.)
I don't know whether he had just survived, as an immortal, into the modern day, making him a very very old and worldly superhorse, or whether he somehow traveled through time to the modern day, but anyway, somehow he and Supergirl met and he became one her favorite animal pals. (Now, I want to call you a truly sick and deviant person for what you're currently thinking, but I really can't, because it's what pretty much every adult Silver Age fan thinks when they reflect on Supergirl's bizarre relationship with Comet the Superhorse.) What makes this even weirder and more potentially sicko is that as part of Circe's curse, Comet regains his human form whenever a comet is visible in the Earthly sky, and, naturally, they had to do one Supergirl story where Comet regained his human form, accidentally ran into Supergirl, and the two of them fell in love.
As you'd expect, Comet in his human form couldn't quite bring himself to tell the Maid of Steel that he was actually... er... her horse... (not to mention a tiny leetle bit older than her, like, a few millenia) and although they mugged it up pretty steamily within the context of the time period (Supergirl's solo stories were generally fairly salacious for that era, since she was a character designed to appeal to the chickie poos in the audience, who were all presumed to like mushy stuff like kissing and hugging and doomed true love), eventually the comet (the one in the sky, fella) continued on its path and Supergirl's latest paramour went all four legged again. Supergirl never knew what became of the poor goop and I fairly distinctly recall the story ending with a panel showing Supergirl snuggling up to her big white superhorse, petting him while sighing something like "Gosh, I wonder if I'll ever see him again", while Comet thought something like "If only I could tell her... but even if I could, it could never be!"
I mean, just when you thought a Supergirl sexual subtext couldn't GET any ickier than the story where she and Superman confessed to having the hots for each other, but knew they could never 'marry' (that was the euphemism they used) because they were cousins and Kryptonian law forbade it, and Kara spent the whole succeeding 20 pages or so trying to set Superman up with other superchicks to slake his lusts on, including a near exact double of Supergirl herself from an alternate dimension (who was actually a few years older than Supergirl was at the time, since, just to compound the queasy subtext of this story, it should be remembered that Supergirl was probably around 15 at the time, while Superman was, as he perpetually seemed to be during the early Silver Age, somewhere in his mid 30s)... well, just when you figured that had to be rock bottom for sleazy super sexual innuendo, along comes THIS story, in which Supergirl ends up making out with her horse. I mean, EW.
Now that we've done the freakish members of the Legion of Superheroes (excepting, as always, Tellus, because I know very little about him/her/it, and White Witch, because I don't consider her a Legionnaire, I consider her to be the villain in THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE) we'll move right on to the freaky characters in:
The Justice League of America -
For the most part, the JLA, like the Legion, is pretty much as unfreaky as you can get in an imaginary metareality devoted to the adventures of a buncha people in tights smacking each other around with fists of steel and optically generated particle beams and such like.
The vast majority of the Justice League, for their first twenty years or so of publication, were astonishingly conservative and conformist, again, given that they were all actually adults who dressed up in garish (and, in the case of the women, generally slinky if not outright sleazy) outfits, hid their true identities, and spent a great deal of their time punching the bejeezus out of even weirder looking strangers with differing codes of social behavior than theirs. However, in the midst of the relentlessly authoritarian, deeply Establishment hordes of police scientists, test pilots, reporters for major metropolitan newspapers, millionaire playboys, foreign monarchs, and nuclear scientists, there were a few weirdies. And leading the Whack Pack, as it were, not only in the JLA but pretty much for the entire DC Universe, we have:
Wonder Woman - say it loud, say it proud; the Amazon Princess and Woman of Wonders is without a doubt one of the freakiest frickin' imaginary characters ever scripted, pencilled, inked, colored, and lettered into fabulous pulp paper existence. From her origins (not mentioned in her first few appearances, but eventually revealed) as an animated clay statue (put that in your 'rocketed to Earth as an infant from the doomed planet Krypton' pipe and smoke it, bub) who, not surprisingly, managed to beat all the other Amazon girls in some truly demented athletic contests in order to win the right to accompany Steve Trevor back to Man's World and 'fight evil', which given the givens, almost certainly translates as, 'become the only Amazon in a thousand years to experience the joys of heterosexuality', up through her weird accoutrements, weirder costume, and truly disturbing power limitations, Wonder Woman was, in the words of Englehart's Luke Cage, 'nuttier than bad peanut brittle' from the very git go.
It should be admitted here and now that Wonder Woman's current costume is actually far sluttier than her very first one, in which she actually had a fairly demure, nearly knee length star spangled skirt danging from her golden girdle, instead of the patriotic near-thong she wears now. Still, 'slutty' is generally defined by its times, and in the 1940s, Wondie's outfit was pretty darned racy, given that her shoulders and the upper slopes of her breasts were fairly distinctly bare, and apparently only the magic of the gods, or Paula's Purple Ray, kept her eagle-emblazoned halter up. (Nowadays, one can only assume that she does not actually wear a costume so much as mystic spirits body paint her in a nationalistic motif while she whirls her lasso around herself.)
Still, the fact that a female homunculus raised in a distant, magically powered, single sex society should be draped in a costume that celebrates a nation no one on Paradise Island had most likely ever heard of does seem more than a little bit weird.
Leaving aside her costume, let's turn to Wonder Woman's mystic accoutrements and powers. Wonder Woman is famous for her magic lasso, which either compels anyone she ensnares in it to absolute obedience, or merely forces anyone she lassoes to tell the truth, depending on just how insanely powerful the current editor wants WW to be (or, perhaps, how deeply into the whole S&M/dominance-submission bondage scene the current editor is).
She's about equally famous for her indestructible wristbands, which she is most celebrated for using to deflect bullets, a skill first demonstrated during the Paradise Island games in which a masked Diana competes for the honor of accompanying Steve Trevor back to Man's World. These games seem to make it clear that Amazons actually train in the rather insane sport of deflecting bullets fired at them with their bracelets, which makes you wonder just what the gunshot fatality rate is among adolescent Amazons, and whether the NRA has ever considered either opening a chapter there or just getting Wonder Woman to appear as a spokeshero in a nationally televised ad campaign. ("Guns don't kill people," the Amazon Princess intones solemnly, "unless they're too lazy to learn the proper uses of their magical wrist fetters! By Hera, what's WRONG with you people?")
Continuing to dwell for a moment on Wonder Woman's magically indestructible bracelets, it's worth noting that, while her magic lariat is never specifically defined as having specific overtones of kinky sado-masochism (not that it needs to be), Wonder Woman's origin is quite explicit in defining the bracelets every Amazon wears as being part of the dress code required of them by their patron goddess, to remind them of the slave fetters once placed upon them by Evil White Men.
Now, one could argue that Wonder Woman, by using these bracelets in battle to defend herself from, well, the impact of a phallic weapon that sprays small, ovoid missiles at high velocity, she is transforming these symbols of female submission to male dominance into tools of feminine independence from same, but one could equally argue that simply by constantly displaying symbolic fetters during such a public crusade as an embodiment of all femininity, Wonder Woman herself, as a character created by a male to represent all womankind, is a visual argument for feminine submission to masculine dominance.
Throw into the mix the magic lariat, which compels anyone ensnared in it to obey its wielder (and which, every three plots, seems to end up being turned against Wonder Woman herself, occasionally, in stories that always seem to somehow end up being big favorites of adolescent male fans, by women dressed even more sluttily than WW herself), which Wonder Woman whirls around herself to transform from dowdy secretarial dress into the much more revealing and accessible outfit she wears as a champion of femininity, and which is pretty much undeniably an accessory for the visual realization of the bondage fantasies that so clearly fuel and inspire much of the creative impulse in male dominated superhuman funny book fiction... and then combine this with the utterly bizarre character development that Wonder Woman loses her 'powers' (which had previously been established as simply being her natural Amazon abilities; Amazons seem to naturally possess a raw power level similar to other superhuman races in the DC metareality like Kryptonians and Daxamites, a comparison that, given Wonder Woman's intermittent and inconsistently defined power to fly, may be more apt than we know) when 'bound by a man'... well... geez.
It's pretty clear WW is very little more than a not particularly subtle and distinctively self indulgent manifestation of some rather kinky erotic fantasies on the part of her male creator. Representative of all womankind? Good Lord, man, if only all women came equipped with their own slave fetters and a magic lariat we could snatch off their golden girdles and bind them with to compel their utter obedience! Wouldn't THAT be sweet! Hell, even being able to twirl said magical rope around them, divesting them of the bulky outfits many attractive women inexplicably choose to wear in favor of something far slinkier from the Victoria's Secret lingerie catalogue would be a big improvement over actual reality.
And if all women 'lost their powers' when bound by a man, becoming weak, feeble, and utterly helpless to resist our horribly partriarchial and oppressively masculine depradations... hubba hubba! Where do I sign up for THIS alternate reality?
Before passing on, we probably need to spend a paragraph on WW's other freaky crimefighting accoutrement, her Robot Plane, which is, quite famously, Invisible, and somewhat less famously, Thought Controlled. A lot of cheap gags have been generated over the years by the notion of an 'invisible plane' (Tom Hanks' 'we THINK you have clearance to take off...?' being only the first that leaps to my mind at this moment) and I admit, the situation is only exacerbated by the moronic tendency of unthinking (or just uncaring, or honestly baffled) artists over the years of drawing a clearly visible Wonder Woman sitting on... nothing... and hurtling through the air... but it strikes me that in point of fact, a mode of air transport that is effectively invisible to all observation or tracking is kind of a nifty thing (it simply shouldn't be invisible to its pilot, when she's inside it, and due to her telepathic link to the thing, it should be clearly explained that she has no difficulty finding wherever she parked it again, either... also, WW, and anyone else inside it, should fairly obviously become invisible too).
I think it's more interesting to wonder just how in the world a non-technological culture like the Amazons managed to build a goddam mentally controlled jet with a frickin' cloaking device, but, well, the Amazons may do like everybody else and sub-contract such jobs to Tony Stark, who could not only design and build an invisible thought controlled airplane if he wanted to, but could also make it sing and cook breakfast for a small additional surcharge.
Wonder Woman became really freaky in the Modern Age, starting with her post Crisis rebirth under George Perez and spiraling into truly bizarre and nearly incomprehensible levels of freakishness under John Byrne, but I don't care about the Modern Age, so we'll just leave that alone... and it spares us the necessity of trying to disentangle exactly what happened to Wonder Girl in the Modern Age, too, which, like twenty five years of Modern Age X-MEN continuity, may well be something that is Not Meant For Mortal Man To Ever Fully Understand.
For what it's worth, though, while I think Wonder Woman is a character made for live action (every guy I know of my generation or older who ever saw Lynda Carter in her Wonder Woman outfit still has strategically placed stars... and eagles, and golden lariats... on the brain), I also think that there is a very basic flaw in the character design that keeps her from enjoying much success in comic books.
That flaw is not, as some have previously noted, that WW is a strong woman and guys don't like that, because actually, there are a lot of guys out there who really love strong women (as the otherwise inexplicable continuing success of Chris Claremont seems to irrevocably demonstrate). The problem is, guys are made deeply uncomfortable by the dynamic between WW and her near constant love interest, Steve Trevor.
Trevor is, and always has been, a strong, competent, stalwart, heroic fellow cut from the same mold as various Caniffesque comic strip heroes of the 1930s and 1940s; however, as Wonder Woman's 'boy friend', he is basically relegated to much the same stature as a more conventional male hero's girlfriend... namely, he gets captured by villains a lot, requiring the superhuman protagonist to come rescue him.
This, to put it mildly, is not a popular depiction of events with young men. When you couple this with the fact that in 40 years of an ongoing relationship (the Steve Trevor thing was phased out post Crisis; the Modern Age Wonder Woman doesn't seem to have a boyfriend at all, although she did play kissy face with Superman once under John Byrne) Steve apparently never even managed to cop a feel or get a little tongue action, well, you end up with a romantic dynamic no self respecting male comics fan is going to get anything out of.
Golden and Silver Age DC fans could fairly easily accept that there was little or no physical affection going on between heroes and their putative love interests (although there was some really weird subtext to the whole Green Lantern/Star Sapphire thing I don't want to go into here; see FOUR COLOR CARNALITY: A STUDY OF SUPERHUMAN SENSUALITY elsewhere on this website), but add in that the big strong guy is constantly being saved from supervillains by his chickie poo, and, well, you're gonna lose most of us.
The obvious answer is to either (a) give Wonder Woman a boyfriend who is at least as powerful as she is, or (b) give Wonder Woman a girlfriend, instead. If you choose option (a), WW ends up sharing her title with a male character, which sort of misses the whole point of having a powerful female protagonist who represents the feminine mystique in superhero metareality (although, honestly, the S&M bondage gear tends to make that a pretty tough sell already), and as for option (b), well, it really wasn't an option during the Golden and Silver Ages.
However, in the Modern Age, you never know... DC might be able to get away with it on PC grounds, prestigious fanzines might call it 'daring', and I'll guarantee you, if WW's girlfriend is cute and they kiss a lot on panel, the comics' circulation figures are going to go right through the roof.
Actually, it's just occurred to me that another answer would be to give Wonder Woman a boyfriend who is obviously an incompetent bungler, and perhaps an overweight nerd, as well. Then all the guys reading the book might empathize with the guy, and not mind at all if WW keeps rescuing him, as long as she promptly fellates him after he's safe again.
J'onn J'onnz, the Manhunter from Mars -
In a recent, and unfortunately mostly unpleasant, exchange with Bradford Wright, author of the interesting, often entertaining, but unfortunately error-ridden and conclusively flawed volume COMIC BOOK NATION, I castigated Mr. Whitford for his repeated, erroneous statement that the Silver Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl were American policemen in their civilian identities. In fact, I noted to Mr. Whitford that had the Hawks actually been American policemen in their civilian IDs, they would have been rather singular, even for the mostly conventional and conformist DC Universe of the Silver Age, since I myself could not offhand think of any superhero who had ever been a policeman in their secret identity, other than Captain America, for a very brief period under Conway and Englehart, in the early 1970s.
Well, a big forehead slapping declaration of "D'oh!" is now in order, especially given the particular pseudonym I write these exercises in bibble-babble under, since as any true Silver Age superhero comics fan knows, (and I myself knew as well, all appearances to the contrary) there was, in fact, one quite prominent superhero of that era who was a police officer in his secret identity: J'onn J'onnz, the Manhunter from Mars, who shapeshifted into the semblance of Detective John Jones of the Midway City Police Department whenever he wasn't running around putting the big green Martian arm on lawbreakers as an otherworldly vigilante.
(I've also only recently remembered, with another big 'd'oh!', that the Spectre also turns into deceased police Detective Jim Corrigan when he wants to pretend to be alive for a while for some reason, but hey, the Spectre isn't a superhero regardless of what Roy Thomas or Jerry Bails think, and anyway, I didn't say anything about dead cops, which Corrigan is.)
I can, perhaps, be forgiven for momentarily forgetting the civilian I.D. of my imaginary namesake, since in point of fact, his identity and career as a police detective have rarely played any particularly crucial part in any adventure I've seen the Martian Manhunter take part in. However, I'm also forced to admit that most of my experience with ol' J'onn has centered around his JLA membership, and I've only seen maybe one or two of his solo adventures, which apparently appeared throughout the 1950s, at the very least, in such titles as DETECTIVE and MYSTERY IN SPACE, perhaps among others. (I really don't know.)
The inclusion of J'onn in this particular article seems to require no justification; anyone who doesn't think a big, green bald headed Superman clone from Mars, who somehow, immediately after arriving on Earth as an inadvertent victim of Professor Erdel's experimental teleport ray, managed to obtain official status as a detective on the Midway City Police Force, qualifies as a freak, is badly in need of therapy, as far as I'm concerned. (Anyone who managed to follow that sentence all the way through in one read without having to stop at least twice and start over at the beginning probably needs it too.)
J'onn was hardly the first Superman clone to come down the pike (Captain Marvel, at this point, had long since been sued off the newsstands for his own rather rampant similarities to the Last Son of Doomed Krypton, and would not return to funny book format until National acquired the rights to the character their damn selves), but as the Martian Manhunter was owned and operated by the same folks who published his obvious fictional template, he had no legal problems to deal with. In addition to the basic Superman powers -- carefully established to be just a tiny bit weaker than Superman's, actually, once the two of them started to interact in JLA, and just as carefully notated as being 'Martian powers' rather than 'super powers', as in, J'onn J'onzz had 'Martian vision' rather than 'super vision', 'Martian strength' rather than 'super strength', etc, -- J'onn also had some distinctive 'Martian abilities' of his own, included limited shapeshifting and the ability to turn invisible.
(Throughout the Silver Age, J'onn's shapeshifting seemed limited to him being able to change from his 'natural' Martian form to his human John Jones guise; late in the Silver Age, Gerry Conway, of all people, started giving J'onn a wider range of shapeshifting capacities, allowing him some stretching abilities similar to those of Mr. Fantastic, or, more annoyingly, the Elongated Man, who was at that time also a JLA member, and who probably didn't appreciate having his sole super-schtick stolen by a guy who already commanded the full range of Kryptonian-type powers, plus invisibility!)
To further differentiate J'onn from Superman, he was given a weakness for fire, rather than Kryptonite (given that J'onn was from a planet where there was almost no water, it would have made more sense to give him a weakness against that, but then he couldn't have flung himself around with mad abandon under the ocean... fire was much easier for a lazy plotter to control).
It also made little sense that J'onn apparently had the same level of invulnerability and space spanning combinations of personal flight and 'Martian speed' as Superman, since for the first ten years or so of J'onn's Earthly career, he was assumed to be 'exiled' to Earth from Mars (Professor Erdel's teleport ray never worked again) and anyone with near-Superman level powers should simply have been able to fly back to Mars in an eyeblink. However, I suppose it's possible J'onn simply didn't know he could fly through space without dying (it's not an assumption I'd have immediately made in his bright blue buccaneer boots, nor is it a hypothesis I'd have been particularly eager to put to experimental test), and later, when he'd finally found out he could do it, his Martian race had managed to get lost on him (in much the same way Namor seemed to fairly constantly mislay the Atlantaeans all through Marvel's Silver Age).
Beyond his visual appearance, though (big, bald, bright green, and possessed of, in the words of Fred Hembeck, a 'very distinctive brow ridge'), really the only thing that makes the Martian Manhunter particularly freaky is his secret identity. And here, again, we must repeat our previous loud and heartfelt 'd'oh!', since in actuality, the very nature of the costumed vigilante makes the fact that J'onn was a cop in his civilian guise extraordinary and, in fact, to the best of my knowledge, unique.
The reason for this is simple but somewhat subtle: superheroes, even in the relentlessly conservative and mostly conformist DC Silver Age, are by definition all outsiders... mavericks... rampant rugged individualists, who take the law into their own hands in defiance of a generally ineffective, bureaucratically bogged down, and often even corrupt police force and civil governing system, meting out justice in accordance to their own peculiar code of ethics and morals, generally with their fists, feet, and any particular focused energy beams that they happen to be capable of firing out of any particular orifice or anatomical extremity.
They are not authority figures, they have no official stature, and make no mistake, this is an intrinsic and inextricable part of their allure to the primarily young, primarily male target audience that superhero comics have always appealed to most. Kids, especially male kids, are at heart non-conformists, and rebellion against authority, especially parental authority but certainly not excluding any governmental authority that happens to intrude into a teen ager's suzerainty, is both a common and powerful adolescent experience/desire.
Kids, for the most part, simply wouldn't respond well to a masked vigilante who was, in his secret identity, a uniformed figure of official authority, and that's why few superheroes have ever been soldiers or cops (or, I suppose, teachers, or even actual natural parents - remember, kid sidekicks are almost invariably adopted wards of their adult partners, which may simply reflect the fact that no comics fan wants to be confronted with a vicarious fantasy figure who runs around fighting crime with his dad) in their secret IDs.
All of which makes the Martian Manhunter pretty freakish. And when you consider that in point of fact, it's virtually incomprehensible HOW a Martian cop, accidentally teleported to Earth by a whacked out mad scientist, could conceivably become a police detective (much less do it in the astonishingly swift fashion J'onn J'onnz seems to)... well, it's beyond weird, its freakishly strange.
All these things, however... J'onn's unimaginative similarity to Superman, the detective angle to many of his adventures which meshes poorly with his amazing 'Martian powers', and the fact that J'onn was, actually, in some truly bizarre way, The Man... may have been what kept the Manhunter from Mars from ever being a particularly successful character.
In fact, in all honesty, I'm simply not sure why the character kept his own feature (granted, never in his own title, but still) for so long, or why he was tagged as a charter member of the JLA. Perhaps DC just felt a need for someone non-white in the team, and he was the closest thing they had... although really, in the late 1950s, that was hardly an issue. Or perhaps it's that the JLA, when first introduced, was a strip that featured the more obscure DC feature characters (Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, the Martian Manhunter and, I believe, Aquaman) and while Superman and Batman were mentioned as being members, they never showed up, so J'onn was needed for pure raw power.
As time has worn on, the Martian Manhunter has become, if anything, more freaky, not less, as various succeeding writers have tried to steadily give him an identity of his own and distinguish him as something more than a bald, green skinned, somewhat weaker version of Superman. While this is a goal I can intellectually recognize as laudable, my inner child views with surliness, suspicion, and deep, truculent resentment any and all attempts to move such an integral part of my treasured early Silver Age experiences further away from what I fondly recall, and therefore, I cannot in conscience, or pre-adolescent lack thereof, condone or respect any such developments.
Further, I'll note that in point of fact, what's been done has mostly simply turned DC's Martians into rather boring copies of Marvel's Skrulls, which merely seems to have substituted the Manhunter's individually derivative nature for a vaster racial act of creative larceny instead.
These days, the Martian Manhunter actually supports his own comic and apparently, many people like it, something that J'onn never aspired to at any point during the Silver Age. So you could say that the Modern Age been berry berry good to him.... But I kinda liked him back when he was just a big green bald Superman clone. Sue me.
Hawkman & Hawkgirl -
No discussion of comics' freakier characters could ever be complete without a section on the Winged Wonders, the Feathered Furies, the Nick and Nora Charles-es of the Super-Set (okay, I suppose that fits Ralph and Sue Dibney a little better)... Hawkman and Hawkgirl.
Okay, this gets really trippy really fast.
The first Hawkman and Hawkgirl appeared in the Golden Age of Comics and were much beloved by, among others I'm sure, Roy Thomas. Joe Kubert drew a lot of those early stories and I have no idea who wrote them unless it was Gardner Fox, but these characters were really kind of bizarre. The 1940s was a period when people were turning away from an increasingly frightening and steadily accelerating rate of technological advancement and seeking emotional refuge in more fantastic forms of fiction; many genres and mediums of popular entertainment were becoming more and more tinged with elements of mysticism and the occult, because most forms of advanced technology were more and more coming to be associated with truly depressing things like the war, and Nazi assembly line-style genocide, and nerve gas, and like that. Many of the superhero characters invented and popularized in this era had fantasy/magical motifs rather than high tech, futuristic ones, despite the fact that the superheroic prototype, Superman, was about as close to pure science fiction as you could get.
Hawkman & Hawkgirl fit right into this burgeoning, fuzzy headed mystical tradition. Museum curator and archaeologist Carter Hall and his fiance Shiera (he later married her) turned out to be, much to their surprise, the reincarnations of ancient Egyptian nobility who had died struggling against an evil priest thousands of years before. Fate brought them into conflict with the current reincarnation of their ancient foe during a dig in the pyramids of Egypt, and donning ancient winged suits and helmets reminiscent of their patron deity Horus, they kicked the crap out of this idiot and liked it so much they decided to keep the outfits and continue to fight evil as Hawkman and Hawkgirl. As an additional trademark, they employed ancient weaponry that they kept stealing out of the exhibit cases in their museum and conveniently forgetting to put back.
That there are logical... er... lapses in this basic heroic concept cannot be argued, but this was the Golden Age of Comics, and what the hell, the most popular character in the world was a guy who'd been shot to Earth as a baby from a doomed planet, 98% of which had since fallen to Earth since in the form of Kryptonite. The audience didn't ask itself basic, analytical questions like "What the hell are these guys doing running around using maces and crossbows to fight gangsters with tommy guns?" or "Say, just how did the ancient Egyptians create Nth metal, anyway, and why don't we have more of it now?" No, they just buckled in and enjoyed the ride as the Hawkly Duo battled really weird villains like the Gentleman Ghost, some ancient Egyptian priest called, I think, Amun Re, a particularly whacky gang of criminals who liked to inject their enemies with a serum that made them act like monkeys, and, I don't know, Gozer.
Fast forward to the late 1950s, and the dawn of the Silver Age at DC. National's publisher, suspecting that the long moribund market for superheroes might welcome a return of the caped and cowled crusaders now that crime and horror comics had been extinguished by the newly set up Comics Code, had already proved himself right with successful, somewhat modernized revivals of cancelled Golden Age favorites the Flash and Green Lantern.
Continuing in that tradition, the next Golden Age heroes to be brought out, dusted off, and lightly coated with a new, futuristic, super-scientific veneer were Hawkman & Hawkgirl. Times had changed, and while a war-weary Golden Age audience might have been annoyed and alienated by high tech heroes, the kids of the late 50s loved the stuff... atomic power, ray guns, rocket ships, spacemen... what had once been anathema was now the very ticket. The new Flash was a police scientist, the new Green Lantern, a jet pilot, and in that tradition, the new Hawkman and Hawkgirl would be from outer space itself... they were, in fact, alien policemen from the distant world of Thanagar, sent to Earth to study our police methods in covert guise (the stinking alien spies!). As it turns out, all the policemen on Thanagar dress in Nth metal wings and hawk helmets; in fact, they call themselves Hawk Police (well, I assume that's a translation, they probably actually called themselves something like 'fnrrk bnrrgil snaggor zegg'), and apparently they all fight crime with the equivalent of ancient Earthly medieval weapons, as well. And they also have the power to converse intelligibly with avian life forms, including, happily enough, Earthly birds.
While our alien Hawk-heroes were actually named Katar and Shiera Hol, they cleverly took on the names Carter and Shiera Hall while they were here, posing as Earth humans to spy on us like the slimey alien rats they actually were. Somehow, despite the fact that they had no Earthly college degrees (hell, they had no Earthly I.D.) they snagged cushy jobs as the curators of the Midway City Museum, and since Midway City was apparently rife with crime (having just suffered an influx of wiley criminals moving away from Central and Coast Cities, where Flash and Green Lantern had recently started kicking ass and taking names), these goddam offworld busybodies found themselves frequently donning their weird alien police uniforms so they could flap out into the Midway City sky and bust heads. And, like their thematic predecessors, they also employed medieval weaponry when they did this, presumably because it hurt barbarian Earth scum a whole lot more to get smacked in the head with a gigantic spiked mace than it would to get blasted with a high tech alien stungun.
And just in case anyone in the audience is afraid that something about this concept might have, at some point, started to make some kind of logical sense, in however minor or remote a fashion, let me add that in addition to the rest of this, the Hawks also had access to the Absorbascon, which was this really unimportant and trivial little alien device that wasn't very powerful at all; it simply contained and somehow made readily accessible all human knowledge. Yet, strangely, the Hawks never thought to use this machine for common sense purposes like, say, finding out just how to get rid of the Gentleman Ghost, or, gee, blackmailing the President of the United States into being their puppet; no, they just got obscure historical information out of it so they could figure out the clues left behind by the gang of thieves that had broken in and stolen the Egyptian mummy jewels.
Despite the fact that nothing about the characters makes even the slightest scintilla of coherent sense, the Silver Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl are among my favorite superhero concepts. They never did particularly well, though; their feature in (I think) BRAVE AND THE BOLD did poorly, and although Hawkman did get a berth in the JLA that kept him somewhat in the public eye, he and his wife never really managed to support their own comic, although DC kept trying right up to CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. In fact, the last HAWKMAN series, written by the ever-prolific Tony Isabella and drawn with the inimitable visual stylings of Richard Howell, was the closest the Hawks had ever come to having a hit series, if by 'hit series' you mean, nearly every comics fan knew at least one guy who bought it and liked it, although he was usually the whiney fat kid that you really didn't want to hang around with, and tried to pretty much ignore whenever he was in the comics shop at the same time as you were.
The Hawks seemed, at first, to have survived the Crisis relatively intact... at least, they had frequent guest appearances in various post Crisis series like the new (awful) JUSTICE LEAGUE and the new (excellent) POWER OF THE ATOM and the (uneven, and often unreadable) ANIMAL MAN. However, then Tim Truman came staggering into Mike Gold's office and said "Say, I know, let's make Hawkman a drug addict and have him kill his dad, and we'll make Hawkgirl a slut, too!", and Mike Gold's beady little eyes lit right up... after which, Hawkman & Hawkgirl began a long, excruciatingly painful slide into oblivion that has only recently ended, with a fairly intelligent revival of the Hawkman character in what may be DC's only well written, lucidly continuity-conscious book, JSA.
Zatanna (and, what the hell, Zatara) -
No listing of DC Universe freaks would be complete without a write up of perhaps the most insanely and idiotically powerful characters in the history of comics, Zatanna and her similarly powered father Zatara, who apparently had the ability to accomplish anything their little hearts desired, merely by commanding that it be so in backwards sentences. Naturally, neither of them ever had the great good sense to simply command "Tsixe ot esaec live lla!", which would have made the DC Universe a very boring place for everyone, and in fact, they rarely showed the slightest amount of intelligence in the application of their ungodly super powers at all... but in the DC Universe, this hardly made them unique, as, let's face it, Superman should have been able to beat nearly all his villains unconscious before they had a chance to say a word, and the same applies to the Flash, and we won't even talk about Green Lantern's inexplicable failure to grasp that 'yellow', like any other color, is merely reflected light, and therefore, if he uses his ring to throw a big light-proof field around yellow objects, he can then do whatever he pleases to them at great and elaborate length without let or hindrance.
Anyway, Zatanna got involved in a lot of whimsical, goofy adventures and eventually, due to a long eliminated DC editorial policy involving actually listening to the readers who wrote in with suggestions (pioneered, most likely, by Mort Weisinger), she was made a member of the Justice League of America. Gerry Conway, fairly obviously appalled and bewildered by an editorial mandate to put a backwards talking bimbo in top hat and tails into the World's Most Powerful Superteam, gave her a new (bad) costume and tried to turn her into a sort of female Dr. Strange by playing up her weird mystic powers and having her talk all occultie. However, she still spoke her spells backwards and never used her powers with anything like intelligence or efficiency, so she was still, for the most part, an embarrassment.
In the Modern Day, Zatanna is one of the few characters who has benefited from a more rational and 'mature' approach to comics, and at least under Neil Gaiman, has been shown to be a truly three dimensional and interesting character for perhaps the first time anywhere. But throughout the Silver Age, she was pretty goofy, and definitely freaky.
While it pains me to admit it, this next truly ridiculous and thoroughly wretched character does belong in the JLA section, although his inclusion in that team is one of the most egregious of Gerry Conway's long, long list of atrocities committed against comics as an industry and comics fans as a culture and a race. Of course, an even greater atrocity is the fact that Conway created this guy at all. Without further ado, then, let us examine the freakishness that is:
Firestorm, the Nuclear Man -
Hellishly awful in every imaginable way, Firestorm the Nuclear Man was 'created' by Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom, and stunk up the entire DC Universe from the moment of his inception worse than that nasty esters experiment that everyone has to do in 10th grade chem lab. Conway tipped his hand early and often in the text piece in the back of FIRESTORM #1, stating categorically that there were no more original characters remaining to be done in superhero comic books, which, he strongly implied, somehow justified the grotesquely misshapen creative abortion that he was presenting to us in this thankfully short lived comics series.
Firestorm was clearly 'inspired' by the initial success of Marvel's NOVA series, a creation of Marv Wolfman's that, while it hadn't been particularly original (being little more than a pastiche of Spider-Man's original high school context with Green Lantern's superhero origin), nonetheless wasn't so blatantly a rip off of anything as to be actively offensive. Wolfman had had the rather singular insight that although the comics audience was still comprised primarily of teens, at that time (the mid 70s) neither Marvel nor DC was actually publishing any teen aged superheroes.
(Hard to believe these days, but true... Marvel's original teen characters, like Spider-Man and the Human Torch, had grown up in the succeeding years, and Marvel had never gone in for teen sidekicks in a big way. DC had teen characters, but wasn't currently publishing any in their own title.) Although NOVA eventually was cancelled after twenty-something issues (most likely due to John Buscema leaving the title, to be replaced by the less visually spectacular work of his brother Sal, and then, later, by the spectacularly misplaced Carmine Infantino, who was never a big hit with Marvel audiences), his early issues caused a lot of stir in the industry and saw fairly good circulation figures... and so, in his usually larcenous manner, Gerry Conway was 'inspired'. Thus came the awfulness that was Firestorm.
Samuel Johnson once remarked "Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good." This for the most part sums up the whole Firestorm concept. The minor part that was good - the teen age superhero going through typical high school experiences and adolescent travails - was remarkably unoriginal. As to the original parts, well -
Firestorm had not one, but TWO secret identities - Ronnie Raymond, high school jock, and Professor somebody or other, whose name I can't even remember right now - Martin something - who was a nuclear physicist. Ronnie had been lured to a protest outside the nuclear power plant where the Professor was working, and through one stupid mishap after another, Ronnie and the Professor were exposed to radioactivity when a bomb planted next to the reactor core went off, and they were somehow fused into one being... Firestorm, the Nuclear Man. (The same mishap turned the terrorist/protest leader, whose name I can't recall, into Multiplex, the Multiple Man, who was just a horrible character in every conceivable way, but that's pretty much par for Firestorm's course.) Since Ronnie had been conscious while the Professor was unconscious during the fusion, Ronnie had conscious control of the Firestorm body, leaving Professor... um... Stein, I think... to be relegated to a phantasmal floating head who could only advise Ronnie during the course of their adventures (said advise which Ronnie rarely followed).
Other areas of truly appalling originality abounded. While Firestorm, like Nova, had pretty much the Lee-Ditko SPIDER-MAN's high school backdrop, complete with potential girlfriends, nerdy pals, and an annoying bully, Conway decided to be different by switching the more usual bully/victim dynamic around. Thus, Ronnie Raymond was a popular jock who somehow kept finding himself victimized by Cliff Carmichael, a spindly, brilliant, sociopathic nerd. Naturally, in real life and even without nuclear superpowers in the equation, someone like Cliff would have quickly found himself bruised, broken, and bleeding at the foot of a flight of cement stairs had he ever dared to mouth off to someone like Ronnie at any high school in the history of humanity. Yet this wasn't 'real life', this was 'original'... and honestly, as someone who throughout my own high school years was a geek/nerd who was constantly victimized by the Ronnie Raymond types, I simply found it stupid, and more than that, offensive.
Beyond this, Firestorm had one 'original' power - he could, with an effort of will, transform anything into anything else.
Yes, you read that correctly. Firestorm could, with the merest smidgen of concentration and a burst of energy, turn any material object into any other material object. And I don't merely mean he could change, say, a lead wall into a copper wall, or something like that, oh my no. Firestorm could (and actually did, once) turn a TV aerial into a working video recorder, despite the fact that I'd bet all the money in Toby Ziegler's pockets that neither Ronny Raymond nor Martin Stein had more than a vague clue between them how a video recorder actually works, or what the chemical composition of videotape is. Didn't matter. Firestorm had the ability to change anything into anything else, which means to me that if he'd really wanted to, he should have been able to change, say, Cliff Carmichael, the bully who annoyed him, into Shannen Doherty (who would doubtless have annoyed him even more, but been fun to look at while she did it).
Oh, but wait, I forgot... for some senseless reason, Firestorm's molecular transformation powers wouldn't work on anything alive. (See, you're thinking, 'come on, that isn't senseless, it's a necessary limitation on the power, otherwise Firestorm could easily beat any conceivable opposition, and...' However, let's face it... the guy can fly at supersonic speeds, has superhuman levels of strength and durability, can hurl blasts of heat, light, and that weird nameless energy they have in comics that we don't in the real world with mad abandon, and he can turn any inanimate object into any other inanimate object basically by wishing to do so. And we're bothering with power limitations? Gee, what a bummer, he can't turn all those bank robbers into glass. He can turn the AIR AROUND THEM into glass, right? Or better yet, large pieces of Tupperware with the lids already sealed? Senseless, I said, and senseless I meant.)
Firestorm even LOOKED freakish, with white out eyes, a flat, inhuman visage, and fire for hair. His major freakishness, however, as I've tried to demonstrate at length in this entry, lies in his truly appalling and utterly excessive stupidity as a character and creative concept.
Simply to place a final flourish of absolute idiocy to the entire concept, Firestorm's Rogue's Gallery, such as it was, consisted entirely of villains like The Hyena, who was strong and fast and had claws, Multiplex the Multiple Man, who could turn into lots of guys, Killer Frost, who could steal the heat from anything she touched, and, you know, other losers, all of whom had to get close enough to Firestorm to touch him in order to hurt him, none of whom could fly, and none of whom had distance effect powers... against a character who, even leaving aside the fact that he can turn the oxygen in their lungs into, I don't know, phosphorus, or something, can still fly and hurl energy blasts at them until the Moon falls out of the sky.
What's worse, such was Firestorm's general ineptness that this bunch of hosers generally kicked the crap out of him right up until the last page of any given comic, too.
You'd think Conway couldn't wank any further off than I've already detailed with this concept, but just to put the last insult to all possible injury, when Firestorm's first series was deservedly cancelled faster than anything since BROTHER POWER THE GEEK (don't look for an entry on The Puppet Elemental here, he's not a superhero and I don't have to deal with him) Conway abused his powers as writer on JLA in a horrible, horrible fashion and stuffed Firestorm into the roster. He even wrote Superman into the last issue of Firestorm's own title, teaming up with Firestorm briefly and at the end of the adventure saying "You did good, kid - I'm going to recommend you for membership in the JLA!" I mean, oh PLEASE! What, Red Tornado doesn't fill the turkey quota well enough?
And speaking of that singular turkey, the Red Tornado -
Where do we start, where do we start. Created an alarmingly short time after the debut of the Vision at Marvel Comics, the Red Tornado was concocted, I want to say, by Len Wein, but I could be wrong, as I'm a bit fuzzy on who wrote Justice League during the early Silver Age that wasn't Gardner Fox, and I suppose there could have been another writer in between him and the point when Len Wein took over for a long and really boring run in, I believe, the early 1970s.
Whatever the case may be, where the Vision was a fairly singular character who has, over the years, despite his egregious abuses at the hands of some of the worst writers in comics, nonetheless showed himself to be one of the most interesting and enduringly popular Avengers ever, the Red Tornado started out as a turkey, continued to be a turkey, remains a turkey, and will doubtless experience the utmost in turkiness for the remainder of his pathetic android existence. Some characters are born to mediocrity, some achieve it, and some have mediocrity thrust upon them; in Red Tornado's case, all three apply. Despite the various efforts of bad writers, average writers, some fairly good writers, and even Yours Truly, who helped Kurt Busiek plot the mostly forgotten RED TORNADO mini series of 1985 and never received a shred of credit for it, either (although 'credit' may really be the wrong word there) the Red Tornado has wallowed in the utmost tedious forgettability since its very inception as a character.
While I couldn't tell you which writer actually came up with the lousy character, I believe within DC continuity T.O. Morrow invented him, for reasons passing understanding. Where the Vision had the interesting and useful power of altering the density of his body, allowing him to either walk through solid walls or become diamond hard and smack the crap out of people, the Red Tornado, so people would not accuse one red-skinned android appearing in a company's major superteam title of being a direct swipe of another red skinned android appearing in another company's major superteam title, had the power to whip up focused whirlwinds that he would direct against his enemies.
How he did this I not only don't know but don't even want to try to explain. At some further point in the Silver Age, Gerry Conway continued the tradition of errant swipery embodied by Red Tornado's very existence by doing a 'Secret Origin of Red Tornado' that was rather blatantly imitative of Thomas and Englehart's similar tale regarding the Vision.
According to the two Marvel scribes, the Vision had actually been rebuilt from the Golden Age Human Torch; now according to Conway, the Red Tornado was actually merely a robotic shell into which, in some truly weird way, the mystical essence of an old Adam Strange menace named the Tornado Tyrant had been imprisoned.
The story made even less sense than most Conway JLA stories, but apparently the presence of the Tornado Tyrant within the Red Tornado became an established part of DC canon and is still considered to be valid today.
Even further down the road, when DC went through a brief vogue of defining nearly anything that held still long enough or even walked slowly past an editor's office as a 'Fill In The Blank Elemental', the Tornado Tyrant was enthroned as the DC Universe's current Air Elemental, while roughly concurrently, a torturously recreated Firestorm was revealed to be DC's Fire Elemental, and Brother Power the Geek, of all goddam characters, was revived by Neil Gaiman and dubbed a 'Puppet Elemental'.
I'm vaguely recollecting that some weird Firestorm villain named Typhoon was, about this time, ajudged to be the DC Universe's Water Elemental, and of course Alan Moore's original declaration that Swamp Thing was actually an Earth Elemental was what kicked the whole damned fad off to start with. For all I know, the DC Universe also has, like, a Sock Elemental, a Carbonated Soft Drink Elemental, and a Trademarked Lunchbox Elemental, as well.
I'm told by Steve Tice, the extraordinarily pleasant individual who used to publish these idiotic things on his comics shop's website regardless of how tediously, erroneously, witlessly, and endlessly I rambled in them, that Red Tornado not only exists in the post Crisis DC Universe but is, in fact, the heroic mentor of Young Justice. However, I have only a vague idea what Young Justice is, and honestly, I just don't care.
Black Canary -
While not in and of herself freakish, at least, in her original persona as a Golden Age costumed heroine of a sort that was fairly typical at the time, the Black Canary became an utterly unique and rather deranged character through the usage of time. Inducted into the JSA as their second female member back in the 1940s (to take the place of Wonder Woman as Recording Secretary; my, those Golden Age heroes were an enlightened and liberated lot), Black Canary gained the singular status of being DC's first dimensional defector when, after a JLA/JSA/Seven Soldiers of Victory cross over in the early 1970s that resulted in her husband Larry Lance being killed, she decided to make a new life for herself on Earth 1, as a member of the Justice League.
The League welcomed her with open arms, since the Earth 1 Wonder Woman wasn't making it to too many League meetings during that period and you always had to have at least one superchickie in every supergroup during the Silver Age. BC proceeded with a vigorous Earth-1 super career under their auspices, and in her own occasional back up features which she usually shared with Green Arrow, who was quickly established to be her paramour. This went on for over a decade, and no one cared... hell, let's be fair; I read all these comics as a kid, and I can attest that no one ever even actually noticed... that since Black Canary was not, in fact, a native Earth-1 superheroine, and she had, in fact, had a very well known and well established World War II crimefighting career on Earth-2, and at the point she transferred over to Earth-1 it had to (inarguably) be around 1970, she should have been, at that point, assuming she was, say, 18 years old in 1940, closing in on 50 when she made the planetary switch.
Ten years later, Earth-1 was undeniably experiencing 1980, and while most superheroes simply collapse their continuity and personal entropy behind them as the calendar pages pile up (with, for example, the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents, which originally might have taken place, in the Golden Age, in the mid 1920s, steadily moving up through the years until, in 1980, it probably took place in the mid 1950s instead), this near universal gimmick could not be applied to the Black Canary (or any character with an established career taking place during WWII) because she was date stamped... she'd fought evil during World War II, and World War II was not an event that could be 'updated' with any credulity.
All of which means that, although no one noticed it, or paid any attention to it, the Black Canary who had moved from one Earth to another back in the early 70s, and who had spent the next decade dating Earth-1's Green Arrow and fighting alongside the Justice League as an acrobat and martial artist, more than holding her own in the company of expert hand to hand combatants like Batman... was very nearly 60 years old.
Obviously, the minute someone actually noticed this, it became completely emotionally unacceptable for most fans that Green Arrow was sleeping with a (forgive us for our youthful intolerance) hag, or that said hag was pirouetting about gracefully kicking Eclipso smartly in the jaw with her high heeled booties while simultaneously karate chopping Chronos into bruised and battered unconsciousness. Even if some story could have been contrived to allow BC to have somehow retained her biological youth over all those years, the simple fact was, fans at the time (and perhaps even now) didn't want to deal with a gorgeous blonde superheroine, dressed in one of superhero comics most infamously exploitative costumes (which happens to be one of my all time favorites), sleeping with a young, strapping, broad-shouldered ultra-archer, who was actually getting perilously close to registering for Social Security. It was, to say the least, a fargin' downer.
But Roy Thomas, champion of all Golden Age super-characters, quickly sprang into action to rectify this astonishing continuity gaffe. In what has to stand as one of the all time worst JLA/JSA crossovers (and nearly the last one prior to CRISIS putting an end to the tradition forever), Roy cobbled together a story in which it was revealed that Larry Lance and Dinah Drake, after being married back in the Golden Age, had had a daughter, who tragically had some mental defect that kept her from ever developing an intellect or any sort of personality. Johnny Thunder, who had long had a huge letch for BC and was still pining for her, undertook to spirit the infant away through the offices of his Badanesian thunderbolt, and to erase all memory of her from Larry and Dinah's brains, to spare them the anguish of trying to raise such a child.
Then, much later, at the point where a grief stricken BC, in mourning for her heroically dead husband, was embarking from one Earth to the other, the Thunderbolt transferred her consciousness into the body of her now adult, but mindless, daughter, because, as it turns out, the radioactivity that had killed Larry had also given BC a dose that would have proven fatal in a very short time.
Naturally, the thunderbolt didn't tell anyone about this, and those daffy Justice Leaguers apparently simply never noticed that abruptly, the around 40 year old Black Canary who stepped through a dimensional portal on Earth 2 had turned into a 19 year old version of herself upon emerging on Earth 1.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that there are a great many logical lapses in this story. For example, there is the fact that a mindless body floating limply in limbo without so much as a rapid eye movement or a finger twitch for 18 years wouldn't even begin to resemble an 18 year old version of an athletic, crimefighting martial artist who probably spent two hours a day every day of her life working out in a gym, practicing her katas, and watching her diet like a hawk. That's a biggie, especially since this goes to more than appearance. Mastery of difficult physical skills like judo and gymnastics is far more than mental; it requires an absolute peak of physical conditioning, too, and it's frankly ridiculous to think that, even if we let the mindless Dinah-daughter's mindless body more or less exactly resemble her mother's trim, muscular, big titted, taut-thighed, slender fingered physical form, that said mindless body is going to have the actual hard learned physical coordination, masterful balance, trained reflexes, and carefully built up calluses of an expert martial artist.
There's also the undeniable fact, which Roy's whole story never really addresses, that apparently, no one who knew Black Canary noticed her strange interdimensional regeneration, nor, apparently, did Black Canary herself ever tumble to it, and I'm here to tell you, no matter how great your shape is at the age of 38, if you suddenly step through a portal and find yourself 18 years old again, you're going to feel a difference, and the people who've been fighting alongside you for years, or even a few hours, are going to spot something, too. That no one in either the JSA or the JLA ever, subsequently, said "Damn, Dinah, YOU look good, what the hell are you eating on Earth-1?" is actually rather ridiculous.
However, while Roy never explicitly explains any of that in his story because he never explicitly mentions any of it (and for all I know, he never explicitly thought of it), it can be rationalized away fairly easily, because, well, Roy is using a monstrously powerful and, in fact, completely undefined plot device - Johnny Thunder's Badanesian thunderbolt, who is, basically, a genii - to accomplish all this.
So... got a new body that doesn't look anything like the original person whose persona is being transferred into it, but does, at least, have all the genetic potential of that original body? No problem, the t-bolt does a little magic and brings the new body up to snuff, including all learned and trained in physical capacities, as well. No one notices that BC suddenly becomes 20 years younger? Um... well... for some reason, the t-bolt obviously did some magic so that no one would notice! Maybe it didn't want to have to bother with long tedious explanations about the mindless daughter floating in limbo, or maybe Johnny Thunder felt that Black Canary would never willingly take over her daughter's body to spare herself from a painful death, regardless of the fact that her daughter had never really had a mind. So, honestly, we can explain everything, more or less, although it's all really really convoluted and I personally would think there had to be a simpler way, or at least, a more credible way, to do all this.
Nonetheless, the above is all fairly acceptable. The only problem is, at the end, what we'd be left with, from the above story, is an old woman in a young woman's body. Now, I have no problem with that, but remember how, well above, we discussed the problem fans have with geezers in their superhero comics, no matter how young those geezers appear to be?
Well, apparently, Roy was concerned about this too, because in defiance of all logic, at the close of his story arc as detailed above, he has Black Canary declare that although she has always THOUGHT she was the original Black Canary, and in fact, she has the memories of the original Black Canary, she is now relieved and delighted to discover that she is actually NOT the original Black Canary, but rather, the daughter of the original Black Canary... just, you know, with the memories, personality, and behavior of her mom.
Apparently, it was thought to be necessary to underscore for we shallow comics fans that in fact, this was not a 60, or 70, or 80 year old woman who had been born somewhere around 1922, inhabiting the formerly mindless body of her much younger daughter through the magical powers of a friend who didn't want to see her die of cancer; oh no. This was, in some truly demented and irrational and utterly senseless way, actually her daughter, whom, I suppose, had somehow been given a life and personality of her own (albeit one that seemed an exact copy of her mother's) by the strange transfer of her mother's life force.
Fortunately, this completely idiotic story has since been supplanted by CRISIS (and that's not something I say about a lot of Silver Age stories). Post CRISIS, Alan Brennert wrote a lovely and moving Black Canary secret origin establishing that the current BC is the daughter of the Golden Age BC, and these days, I'm fairly sure that this explanation remains accepted canon (although, as time wears on, it seems inevitable that at some point, DC is going to have to retroactively slip another Black Canary into the mix somewhere, so the current one can be the granddaughter of the WWII heroine, as otherwise, the daughter of a woman who fought the Nazis in WWII is going to start seeming a little too long in the tooth for all these costumed shenanigans any time now).
In the Modern Age, Black Canary for a time supported her own self titled comic, something her Golden Age predecessor (mother or not) never managed to do, as far as I know. It's worth noting here that for a while, after she moved to Earth-1, Black Canary had a largely undefined 'canary cry' super power which basically allowed her to do anything the writer needed her to do once or twice in any given plot by singing and willing it to happen (apparently, this was a side effect of the radiation that had killed Larry Lance, although, since Roy later revealed that in fact, the body exposed to that radiation had died, I don't know WHERE the power came from if we accept that story as being actually valid).
The 'canary cry', like the character of Red Tornado, was largely reminiscent of something already established in Marvel's AVENGERS (in this case, the 'hex spheres' of the Scarlet Witch, which were the same sort of largely undefined, overly convenient plot device there) and perhaps underscores that Len Wein was not in any way above taking his inspiration wherever he found it. The 'canary cry' was part of the character for nearly two decades and then, abruptly and without explanation, it simply vanished, so Mike Grell could have BC get captured and gang-raped by Yakuza in the first issue of his brutal and mindless LONGBOW HUNTERS, to provide BC's longtime (and suddenly, inexplicably, middle aged) love interest Green Arrow with a motivation for giving up his gimmicky arrows and adopting the rather cruel (and amazingly stupid) battle tactic of shooting barbed hunting shafts at his enemies instead.
Black Canary is apparently a member of the modern JSA now, but I only started buying the book recently and she hasn't been featured in any of those issues as yet, so I really don't know what's up with her these days.
Vibe, Gypsy, and Kid Steel -
I hate hate HATE having to mention this pack of hosers, but their thankfully brief (but mournfully not brief enough) tenure in the JLA took place before CRISIS, and thus, is part of the Silver Age, however much I loathe that.
For a mercifully short period, Gerry Conway, who had been writing the JLA really badly for years at that point, completely lost what shreds of sanity he had remaining (he'd never had much talent) and put the JLA through what I refer to as the "Aquaman and the Outsiders" period. This was a time when most of the JLA's classic members had quit for various reasons (like, being sick of how Conway was writing them) and Aquaman was trying to form a new League.
Along with the Martian Manhunter and the Elongated Man, Aquaman got Vixen, a black chick from SUICIDE SQUAD with a mystic amulet that gave her, I don't know, fox powers or something, and these three losers, whom Conway made up on the spot, and formed a new Justice League.
Based, for some insane reason none will ever fully understand, out of some old YMCA building in Detroit, this new JLA was so horribly horribly awful, even without Firestorm, that Conway was forced to end the whole premise within a half dozen issues or so, and wound up doing so by getting most of the characters killed. I swear, it was like the JLA had wandered for six months into the tail end of the New Universe, or something.
Anyway, Vibe was this Puerto Rican teenager with vibrational powers, or something; Gypsy was a teenage girl who could disappear and walk through walls and Kid Steel, who actually just called himself Steel, was in some way I will NEVER understand a teen age, Earth 1 version of the Steel character Conway had created with Don Heck for a short lived WWII series ten years or so before, and who had later been established by Roy Thomas to have lived on Earth 2, when Thomas put him in ALL STAR SQUADRON.
It was awful, and truly, truly freakish, and beyond all the other factors I've mentioned, it was also notable for showing me yet again that no matter how bad something is, it can always get worse. I'd have sworn the JLA could never EVER possibly get worse than the "Aquaman and the Outsiders" era, and then, a year or so later, along came Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis... ::sigh::
Having finished with freakish members of the Silver Age Justice League (okay, I kinda skipped over the Red Tornado and Black Canary, but leave me alone, I'm tired) we'll move right on to some other DC freaks, like:
Dial H For Hero -
To think, I very nearly closed this thing out without giving so much as a thought to Robby Reed, owner of the mystic magical artifact that allowed him to 'Dial H For Hero'!
I first became acquainted with Robby Reed's adventures during a brief period in the late 1960s (I believe) when DC, for a while, kicked its cover price up to a dizzying and seemingly extortionate twenty five cents, at time when Marvel had just reluctantly moved its own price tag from 12 cents, a standard cover price on comics for about a decade, to 15 cents. DC had to make a price increase, too, but in order to justify the walloping one they instituted, they started filling the backs of their comics with about twice as many reprint pages as there were pages of new story in the front of the book. Apparently, many of DC's well established, older fans protested this development, and voted with their wallets by refusing to buy the comics, but I loved these thick packages, because I'd never read any of these reprints before, and to me, it was like getting one of those cool 80 Page Giants every month.
'Dial H For Hero' was one of the many somewhat older features pulled out of mothballs and reprinted during this period, I believe in SUPERBOY (although, as always, I could certainly be wrong). And while at the time (I believe this was around fourth grade for me, so I'd have probably been all of eight or nine years old, making this take place around 1968 or 1969) I was certainly neither a demanding nor discerning funny book reader, and tended to be thrilled beyond belief by nearly anything that wasn't either (a) Archie, (b) Harvey, (c), one of those 'ugly, boring' comics by Marvel (I wouldn't appreciate Marvel's more three dimensional approach to superhero comics for another two or three years) or (d) a 'gurl' comic, I have to admit I got a special kick out of Robby Reed's exploits.
Here was, truly, a hero who could have been me (or, I suppose, nearly any young male comics fan); a nerdy guy with horn rimmed glasses who fell into a hole in the ground and found this really cool thing that let him turn into not just A superhero, but a completely different superhero every time he used it! Talk about cool! With Superboy, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, et al, you pretty much knew what you were getting every month, but with Robby Reed - sockamagee!
He could dial those four digits (that he had laboriously deciphered from the strange, alien script adorning the telephone-like dial, how I couldn't begin to tell you, and at the time didn't care) and turn into anyone from Zip Tide, a weird sort of water elemental dude who literally washed crime away, to Robby the Robot, who, among many other lame-ass powers, had the truly demented ability to turn himself into wood (!!), which he used to defeat a villain named (no, I don't believe it, either) Magneto, by firing giant splinters at him.
Okay, look, there can be little doubt that when viewed in retrospect and from an adult's perspective, 'Dial H For Hero' was even stupider, more contrived, and more just plain brain bogglingly absurd, than even the other comics features published by National in its time period (which, since 'Hero' was being reprinted in the late '60s, I'm going to assume would have been either the late '50s or early '60s... an era fairly redolent with hallucinatory dumbness at DC; they needed a lot of material to fill up their comics and not all of it could be Kubert HAWKMAN material or Broome/Infantino FLASH stories).
I mean, right out of the box, we've got a kid finding this either ancient magical or advanced alien artifact that looks... well, rather recognizably like a modern day phone dial, inscribed with ancient or alien runes that he somehow manages to translate four of, which just happen to be the letters H-E-R-O, which just happen, when dialed in that order, to turn a human being into a superhuman, apparently by choosing from a long, random list of utter losers who would be embarrassed to be seen at a Legion try out day!
To say this is rather sense-free is something of an understatement. As a fellow comics fan once sneered to me regarding this concept: "Dial H For Hero my ass! Why didn't he ever dial M-O-N-E-Y? Or S-E-X?"
While these are all sensible and reasonable concerns, from an adult perspective, I have to reiterate that at age 8 or 9, I was hardly concerned with such things, and in 1968 or 1969, I was still firmly part of the general target audience for most superhero comics, especially the ones being put out by National at that time. I'm assuming, therefore, that my enjoyment of 'Dial H For Hero' was hardly unique to me, and that assumption seems born out by the fact that over the years, as fans have grown up and turned into pros, 'Dial H For Hero' has been revived at least twice that I can think of.
Neither time did it see much success (the second time, in the early 80s, the series featured twins, a young brother and sister who found matching hero dials and who transformed themselves into heroic guises sent in by the fans, and who fought villains who had also been sent in by the fans, and, well, that's rarely a real good idea, and this wasn't one of the rare instances when it was).
The most cool thing about 'Dial H' from a 9 year old's viewpoint, as stated, was that Robby could turn into ANYthing; you never knew what the next spin of the ol' hero dial would do. I'll grant you, doubtless a great deal of the interest and even suspense of this came out of the constant hope that this time, THIS time, Robby might not turn into someone utterly and completely lame (at 9 years old, I wasn't capable of the level of analytical thought that would have told me that Robby would ALWAYS turn into someone totally lame, because a non-lame hero wouldn't be wasted in a five panel appearance in an obscure back up feature that had run 9 installments and then vanished forever back in the early Silver Age), and that hope was very nearly always not realized (although there were degrees of lame as well, with Robbie The Super Robot and some other gomer who I seem to remember had wings growing out of his temples... not little Captain America wings, but big damned white wings that actually allowed him to fly... being at the far end of the lame extreme, and other guises, like the aforementioned Zip Tide, and another guy I recollect called Super-Nova, being something remotely approximating okay).
And, if truth be told, Robbie's guises not only always had lame names and dorky appearances, they often had amazingly stupid powers, too, and as a general rule, the menaces Robbie fought weren't exactly on the wait list to get into the Secret Society of Supervillains, either.
The Creeper -
Weird with a beard, one simply can't write about Silver Age freaks without including this trippy little Ditko character. Hot off his successes doing Spider-Man and Dr. Strange for Marvel, Ditko slipped over to DC and tried to duplicate much the same formulas there. Unfortunately, Ditko didn't have a Stan Lee to work with at DC, and lacking someone to rein in his frankly deranged philosophical excesses, he wound up creating a bunch of characters that were so whacked out no one had the slightest idea what to do with them.
One of these was The Creeper - arch conservative reporter Jack Ryder, who, upon setting out to infiltrate an underworld social event in order to get a story, discovers to his chagrin that it's a costume party. Figuring that trying to explain that he's come dressed as a reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper won't fly, he slips out to a costumery, where he discovers that all the other revelers have already scarfed up all the really good stuff, leaving behind only a box of random odds and ends, which apparently include a green fright wig, a big red fur, (hey, I don't make this stuff up) some green gloves, boots, and trunks with furry trim, and a big tin of yellow body make up. And you wonder why no one ever goes to your local con's Costume Parade dressed as the Creeper.
Anyway, stripping to the near buff, slathering himself with bright yellow pancake makeup, donning his wig, trunks, gloves and booties, and throwing the big red fur over his shoulders as a frankly bizarre looking cape, Jack made his way back to the party, where he managed to successfully blend in for, oh, about 7.3 picoseconds before some gunsel said "Holy shit, who's the freak in the big red fur?"
After that, things went to hell fast, and Jack wound up getting stabbed or shot or otherwise grievously wounded in his lower torso by upset thugs, who apparently didn't like having their parties crashed by big banana-colored whackjobs in green trunks and a fright wig. Fortunately for Jack, there was a defecting Soviet scientist being held captive inside a secret room at the party (really, I just report these things) and he stumbled through the secret door in time for this guy to decide to implant the one working prototype of his life's work IN JACK'S STOMACH WOUND, while simultaneously dosing Jack with the one existent sample of this super-soldier serum he'd also been working on, which not only healed Jack instantly, but also somehow made it so that Jack's body didn't go into septic shock and die of blood poisoning from the big hunk of experimental circuitry now resting somewhere near his kidney.
What the prototype did was, when activated, it sent whatever its user was wearing (except for itself) into some mystic limbo, from which it would call said wardrobe and equipment back at some later point. In combination with the super-soldier serum, this was intended to create an army of perfect guerilla soldiers, who could enter any country dressed as normal civilians, yet summon their weapons back from limbo at need.
Of course, the Soviet super scientist decided he did not want to see his brilliant inventions abused in the service of evil, so he defected, only to end up kidnapped by American hoodlums who, for reasons known only to them, tossed him into a secret room in a house where they were holding a costume party, without bothering to search him for things like strange high tech devices and flasks of super soldier serum first. This, naturally, resulted in Jack now having the only existing prototype of this frankly astonishing invention embedded in his flesh in between loops of his small intestine, and so, again, in accord with the unwritten rules of Silver Age superhero origins, he used this wondrous and uncanny device to make quick changes between his normal civilian clothes and his ridiculous superhero costume.
Of course, the Professor gets killed when Jack tries to break him out of the house, and Jack, who seems to be quite a few Pepsis short of a 12 pack, decides to 'confuse' the goons at the party by walking in a strange, hunched over fashion and laughing like a lunatic from time to time.
"Get him!" gasps one gunsel, in the obligatory Expository Word Balloon. "Get that weird... Creeper!" Naturally, they don't get anything but beaten unconscious, and a new hero is born.
The Creeper, as far as I know, became one of those eternally recurring B characters whom a small but vocal group of truly deranged fans really liked and bitched for return appearances of enough to get him the occasional 8 page back up story or guest shot in BRAVE AND THE BOLD. I think he might have once tried out for membership in the JLA, but on the other hand, I might be thinking of a Fred Hembeck story, too. How in the world Mike Barr overlooked him when he was putting together Batman & The Outsiders I'll never know, but in point of fact, the Creeper languished in perpetual obscurity right up through Crisis, and afterwards, I can't recall ever seeing him anywhere until someone who looked a lot like him showed up in one of those strange Justice League variants.
The Creeper was one of those characters who is so visually distinct that very few people could draw him effectively. Steve Ditko was one, and to my mind, the only other person I can think of who ever managed to make him look impressive was Jim Aparo. Under nearly any other artist he simply looked ridiculous; I mean, even more so than any normal comic book mesomorph in spandex and a cape does.
Doom Patrol -
The original Doom Patrol was entirely unknown to me in my childhood, so they really shouldn't be here. However, one cannot really write much at all about Silver Age super-freaks without giving at least a passing nod of a robotic, giant sized, bearded and bandage-wrapped chin to these guys, whose raison d'etre, as it were, was being the self pitying freak show of the DC Universe.
As an adult comics fan, I've learned considerably more about this bunch, and while I'm not sure I'd really have wanted to read their original series in the 1960s by Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani (and DC apparently doesn't want me or anyone else to, either, as they've never reissued it), I have to admit there's a certain screwy charm in what I've heard about them.
Even leaving that aside, though, the Doom Patrol would also win a place in the annals of freakiness for being the first super-group to ever have their comic cancelled and be blown to bits at the same time. Trapped on a tiny atoll wired with explosives by their enemies, the Brotherhood of Evil, the Doomies were faced with a hard choice, as their malevolent foes told them that they had also wired a small, inhabited island off the shore of New England to explode, and they were going to allow the Doom Patrol to choose which island they blew up. Naturally, the Doom Patrol requested, nay, True Believer, demanded, that the Brotherhood of Evil blow them straight to hell rather than those innocent fisher-folk ("Kill us! For God's sake, KILL US!" is certainly not the sort of battle cry one would expect to see in the Avengers, or even the X-Men, although it would certainly have been understandable during the interminable Claremont Interregnum) and, well, the Brotherhood of Evil obliged them.
Years later, the remnants of Robot-Man drifted ashore and were rebuilt by someone in shadowed silhouette who looked a whole lot like Will Magnus, creator of the Metal Men, and, although seriously afflicted with survivor's guilt, the newly remodeled Cliff Steele went on to act as the core around which a new, really rotten, Doom Patrol formed, which included a black guy who could fire energy bolts from his hands and was for some insane reason called Tempest, a cute blonde female Russian ex-cosmonaut who had Negative Man's powers and in a fit of originality called herself Negative Woman, and some chick from India whose powers I can't even remember (hot and cold blasts, maybe?) but who later turned out to be General Immortus' wife, anyway.
That remarkably bad team, written with a truly astonishing lack of talent by Paul Kupperberg, was kinda nicely drawn by Joe Staton, but after a two issue origin story in DC's SHOWCASE, they dropped into obscurity again, until much later, when Kupperberg brought them back, wrote them horribly for about ten issues, and then surrendered them to Grant Morrison, who made the 'new' Doom Patrol so unbelievably and horrifyingly freakish as to defy even my powers of description, bringing in characters with strange, pretentious sounding names like, I don't know, Imago and Homunculus and Moon-Kingdom, or things like that, anyway, and melding Negative Man and Negative Woman into a weird Negative Hermaphrodite entity, and honestly I don't know what all. In the end it was revealed that either the Chief had actually somehow caused all the accidents that had originally empowered the Doom Patrol (robbing them of their normal lives) or he was actually a 12 year old Hispanic girl named Lucy who spoke only Urdu... or maybe both, I never could figure it out.
Metal Men -
These guys are truly, truly bizarre. Self aware robots built by eccentric genius Dr. Will Magnus, each of the Metal Men was apparently created of, and sort of embodied the properties of, a different element - Tin, Lead, Gold, Iron, and Platinum, I think. Oh, wait, I'm forgetting Mercury. Tin was brittle and excitable, Lead stolid and dependable, Iron strong but vulnerable, Platinum was a babe, Gold was the leader and deeply noble, and Mercury was irascible and difficult to get along with. When not arguing amongst themselves vociferously, the Metal Men battled various deeply whacked out menaces using their metallic powers, and honestly, I've never read their original series, so I don't know that much more about them. All I can say is, if I were a human lawbreaker and I saw some big red guy called Mercury coming at me, I'd surrender on the spot. That stuff is toxic.
Batman - not actually a freak, despite Frank Miller doing his best to turn him into one. However, when teamed up with -
The Outsiders - Halo, Katana, Looker, Black Lightning, Geo-Force, and Metamorpho... he became, if anything, a comparative paragon of mental health and stability.
Exactly WHAT was going through Mike W. Barr's head when he came up with the BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS concept is patently obvious; like so many others, he was trying to throw a harness around a fad (in this case, for overly emotional, melodramatic superteam soap operas full of good looking chicks who touched each other a lot).
Barr seems to have had better timing than, for example, perennial Silver Age fad-grabber Tony Isabella, who always came in a year or so late and several creative dollars short, and in point of fact, BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS did seem to pick its spot well, and enjoyed some fan favorite status for several years, before the target audience eventually wised up and realized that Barr simply couldn't write a lick, and his lack of talent in that regard was only exacerbated by this motley collection of utter losers which, rather than being reminiscent of Marvel's New X-Men or DC's New Teen Titans (as was clearly intended) came off as little more than a truly pathetic DC version of the already utterly lame Marvel team THE CHAMPIONS.
Perhaps, had Tony Isabella managed to get permission to put a popular Marvel character into the core of his own 'team for the common man', then SPIDER-MAN AND THE CHAMPIONS might also have enjoyed a few years of popularity before people, by and large, came to their senses and dropped the concept like a thematic hot rock. Or maybe not. All I know is, for some reason that none may ever know, BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS was a popular comic for quite a while, supporting two separate series, BATO, and the more simplistic THE OUTSIDERS -- something I know because several people I was in contact with used to buy them and insist I should buy them, as well, although I wouldn't, I just read theirs, and noted without surprise every month that despite often great art by Jim Aparo and Alan Davis, the books still out and out sucked.
Eventually, as I say, people wised up, both books got cancelled, and as far as I know, all Barr's original characters - Katana, Looker, Halo, Geo-Force - sank immediately back into the utter obscurity they so richly deserved. Metamorpho, unfortunately, got tagged to be included in the truly sickening early Modern Age era of JUSTICE LEAGUE situation comedy comics, appearing in one of many JL titles of that period that were all horrifying travesties in four color form and that make me nauseous and vaguely dizzy just thinking about. Black Lightning, I only hope, is dead, but since Tony Isabella keeps making noises at DC to let him do a revival of the character, maybe he's just in hiding, instead. I wouldn't blame him.
Metamorpho, the Element Man is certainly freakish enough to deserve his own entry here, but since I don't know much about the character, I'll skip him. Well, okay, I'll note that later on, in either BATO or JLE, he got married to his long time love interest, Sapphire Stagg. Boy, what a prize SHE got.
Ultra, the Multi-Alien -
I'm not sure, but Ultra the Multi-Alien may well be the FREAKIEST superhero concept, not merely at DC comics, but in the history of the sub-genre. My specific memories of this character are vague (perhaps due to traumatic amnesia, I don't know) but I did once read his debut story (my buddy Jeff loved this idiot and sought out his few actual adventures in back issue bins, so I did read a few of them) and I'll do my best.
As best I can recall, Ultra the Multi-Alien was a rocket pilot in some near future who somehow became embroiled in a really bizarre plot featuring four alien crimelords from four different planets. These guys each had ray guns that would turn whoever got shot by them into an exact duplicate of the person shooting the ray, and honestly, if you can't see what a brain bogglingly stupid plot device like that is leading to within four pages or so, you're no true fan of Silver Age comics. Consulting my notes, I find that Ultra the Multi-Alien was apparently created by someone named Dave Woods, whom I've never heard of before or since and thank God for that, and Lee Elias, who honestly should have known better.
Anyway, our hero the rocket pilot got shot by all these alien guys all at once with the ray guns that would turn their targets into exact duplicates of the person firing the gun (geez, I hate typing that) and he became this horrifyingly freakish amalgam of all four races and immediately eclipsed Metamorpho in the running for Ugliest Superhero Of All Time (in fact, he went by the Element Man so fast you'd think good ol' Rex Mason was stapled to the turf). Of course, this makes even less sense than it seems to (and it seems to make... very little... actually) because at least one of these alien crimelords had the ability to hurl lightning bolts, and why would you shoot some interfering busybody with a gun that will turn him into an alien with the same powers you have, when you could just, I don't know, BLAST HIM INTO VAPOR, instead? But noooooo, they all had to shoot this poor goop with their presto-chango guns, and so was born the Freakiest of the Super Freaks.
Ultra had, in addition to the lightning throwing powers of the one alien I mentioned (that quadrant of his body appeared to be made out of blue electricity), superstrength and invulnerability from another alien, the power of flight from a third, and... something, I don't know what, the capacity to control dust, maybe, from the fourth one. He was also super intelligent because he had 4x alien brain power (don't, just don't get me started here), had telescopic vision, and superspeed, god knows why. (Wait. The fourth alien gave him magnetic powers, that was it.) I'm vaguely thinking that eventually he got hold of some kind of atomic rearranger belt that let him turn back into his human form at will, so that was okay. He also had a blonde fiance, I'm pretty sure.
Ultra actually showed up in the horrible horrible Howard Chaykin TWILIGHT miniseries, which is deeply bizarre, but doesn't matter for purposes of this article, because TWILIGHT is not a Silver Age comic book, and in point of fact, sucks anyway, so we won't talk about it.
The Last Boy On Earth, Kamandi was, without a doubt, one of the freakiest concepts ever to come out of the fertile mind of Jack Kirby... and that's saying something.
According to industry apocrypha, KAMANDI, THE LAST BOY ON EARTH was created after DC lost a bidding war with Marvel Comics to get the rights to a comic book adaptation of PLANET OF THE APES. Reportedly, Carmine Infantino turned to the newly defected Jack Kirby and ordered him to create something 'like' POTA... and what came forth from Kirby's eternally whacked out imagination was this astonishingly original and iconoclastic series, in which humanoid animals ruled a ruined, post Apocolyptic Earth and the surviving human beings all had bestial intellects, with one notable exception... a blonde adolescent named Kamandi, who wandered this barren Earth in search of so much as one other human like himself, and having the weirdest adventures imaginable.
KAMANDI lasted far longer than any sane person would ever have predicted, most likely because DC, desperate for something 'different' in a time when nearly every member of their audience immediately defected en masse to Marvel upon hitting adolescence, certainly understood that they had it in this series. KAMANDI never had a huge following, but the following he had, according to the rather primitive market research of the time, was in the age range DC was trying to keep and Marvel was consistently stealing away from them... and, more than that, Kirby obviously loved doing the book, and the audience KAMANDI had reached obviously loved reading it.
In the fifty or so issues that Kirby himself wrote and drew, KAMANDI wandered the length and breadth of the North American continent and even gave us tantalizing glimpses of the Post Great Disaster Europe. Whenever one might think Kirby was running out of ideas, he'd come up with something completely fresh and utterly screwy, having Kamandi, on one occasion, wander into a city that seemed full of still intelligent, civilized humans, who for some reason seemed to think it was still the 1930s (it turned out this was Chicago-World, a Westworld type theme park populated with lifelike androids), and on another, become involved in a war between sentient dolphins and intelligent killer whales. Kirby also provided us with parody/satires of current political situations, such as a story in which Kamandi and Great Caesar's tiger troops are nearly killed by gorilla soldiers who have discovered "the Watergate Tapes" in the ruins of Washington D.C. and are using them to power a giant 'sound cannon'.
As always, Kirby seemed to have little use or time for continuity in a greater, universal sense, doing nothing much towards establishing any relationship between Kamandi's world and the mainstream DC continuum.
As Kamandi's fan base was markedly more intelligent and mature than those reading most of DC's other books, there were fascinating ongoing speculations on the letters page regarding the nature of the Great Disaster (a prevailing theory was that it represented the Earthly fall out of the final confrontation between New Genesis and Apokolips), but Kirby never bothered himself with much in the way of actual explanations. He used DC's mainstream material whimsically, as source material for some of his even whackier than usual KAMANDI stories, such as one in which Kamandi encountered "The Gorilla Justice League", apes who had apparently found the JLA's mountain-cavern headquarters and liked to dress up in well preserved JLA costumes they found there.
In another story, Kamandi ran into a tribe of apes that had found one of "The Mighty One's" indestructible costumes, and, in fulfillment of King Arthur-like legends that some day "the Mighty One" would be born again, they took turns being flung out of catapults while wearing it, in the notion that the true reborn "Mighty One" would survive. (None did.) Not to put too fine a point on it, but the costume was blue, with a big red and yellow S symbol on the chest, and had red trunks, boots, and cape.
All of this seemed to establish incontrovertibly that the world of the Last Boy On Earth was at the very least a divergent future of the mainstream DC Universe, but Kirby always left that sort of quibbling to others, and even as avid a continuity obsessive as I am can see many other alternatives (not least of which being that, in a world with robotic theme parks like Chicago-World, it certainly wouldn't be out of the question for there to be trademarked tourist attractions like an Authentic Justice League Cavern HQ! and Indestructible Superman Souvenir Costumes!)
Perhaps the most bizarre Kamandi appearance of all, though, and one that seemed to simultaneously establish incontrovertibly that Kamandi both was, and was not, in the future of the DC Universe, took place in an issue of BRAVE AND THE BOLD by Bob Haney and Jim Aparo. In this story, Kamandi finds some humans trapped by gorilla troops in the radioactively isolated ruins of Mount Rushmore, and uses an ancient Indian ritual he finds written on a cave wall (look, just be quiet, okay?) to summon up the great historical champion, Batman, using images he has found in various comic books, including a BRAVE AND THE BOLD issue where Batman teamed up with the Joker.
Back in modern day Gotham, Batman suddenly lapses into a coma, but his astral body travels to Kamandi's time/space continuum, where it takes on solidity and, eventually, after wandering around the wasteland for a while in appalled incredulity, teams up with Kamandi to get these people the hell out of Mt. Rushmore and... er... um... somewhere else, where intelligent, hostile animorphs will be able to find and kill them better, I suppose.
As with any Bob Haney BRAVE AND THE BOLD script, continuity was a suspicious, deviant, subversive concept best kept at a distance, and internal logic was most likely regarded as a conspiracy funded by the Kremlin to undermine excitement and fun. B & B under Haney was always a vaguely delusional experience to those who knew anything whatsoever about DC's mainstream, established universe, and this story may well have been the trippiest thing Haney ever wrote for the title, which is a pretty astonishing accolade.
As always, though, despite plot embellishments that make absolutely no sense at all, like gorilla troops seeing a guy in a grey tights, blue trunks, a pointy cowl, and a serrated edged cape, and thinking he was actually some sort of bat-person, to the point where they accepted his self-asserted authority when he called himself 'Captain Bat', the story was indeed fun and exciting, and the Jim Aparo art was simply (as always) superb.
By DC's own well established continuity at that time, comic books such as Kamandi clearly displayed (he was holding photostats of actual comics published by DC) only existed on Earth-Prime, NOT on Earth-1, or any other superhero inhabited Earth. And yet, nonetheless, Kamandi summoned Batman, and Batman showed up, which also seemed to clearly establish that Kamandi did indeed exist in the future of the actual DC Universe.
However, there are many, many alternate theories that we continuity obsessives can propose to explain all this (where Kirby and Haney would mostly likely merely shrug at the very notion). Rather than go into great detail on them (although I'm fascinated by the idea that Kamandi might actually live in the future of Earth-Prime), I'll simply note that for the vast most part, every aspect of every Haney B&B story is somewhat problematic when looked at in the light of ongoing DC continuity, and it's probably best to regard the whole run as being 'just stories', however much I, as a truly anal continuity booster, hate that.
Bolstering the need for a 'it's just a story' approach is Haney's rather casual disregard of the essential element of Kamandi's own continuity, which was that he was the only normal, sentient human being in the world.
In Haney's B&B story, Kamandi just happens to stumble on an entire tribe of 'normal' humans living in Mt. Rushmore's caverns... something Kirby was always careful not to let happen, as any humans Kamandi encountered were either non-sentient and bestial (although apparently capable of being trained to perform in a very sophisticated fashion, as we saw with domesticated 'animals' like Flower and Spirit) or mutants of some sort (like Ben Boxer and his fellow 'cyclotron-heart' warriors) or lifelike androids (as with Chicago-World).
Therefore, either we simply say (as is most sensible) that this particular B&B story was 'just a story', like most of them clearly were, or if we have to have an explanation (and such explanations can often be fun to consider, at the very least) then this was an alternative version of Kamandi (and, probably, the Batman in the B&B stories, along with all his guest stars, were similarly 'alternative' versions from some surreal Earth-B&B).
KAMANDI as a series was kept going for probably twenty or more issues after Kirby left it, with DC doing their level best to hide the fact that Kirby was gone by keeping Mike Royer and Chic Stone on the artwork, doing more or less passable Kirby impressions.
The scripts became... er... less vigorous and derangedly inspired, under various Kirby successors like Gerry Conway and even Steve Englehart (Englehart, after leaving Marvel, seemed to write a little bit of everything for DC at one time or another, although he's justly most famous for his work on DETECTIVE, which approaches, and may eclipse, the quality of his best work at Marvel, and is certainly the absolute apex of the Batman character to date).
All this was simply 'caretaker' work, as DC tried to maintain one of their only steady sellers to a target audience and age range that largely read Marvel's offerings of this time period, but while it seemed the worst KAMANDI had ever been, the nadir for the little blond haired talking animal was yet to come. That would happen only at the end of, and after, CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, when, respectively, Marv Wolfman tried to convince us that a young blond foundling discovered in fall out shelter Command D would grow up to become Tommy Tomorrow of the Space Patrol (causing all true Kamandi fans everywhere to gag, choke, and wish they could hurl on Marv Wolfman's tennis shoes), and a year or so later, when Some Idiot I Can't Remember The Name Of gave us a mini series called KAMANDI AT WORLD'S END that was so utterly vile and obnoxious that it should have killed anyone touching it with their bare skin from toxic shock syndrome.
Since then, KAMANDI, like OMAC, seems to be a concept DC is mostly happy to leave fallow, although I've heard some disturbing mention of some use of the idea being made in some post Crisis Superman comics, as having some connection with the new Newsboy Legion, or some damn thing. However, everything about the post Crisis DC 'Universe' is subject to sudden retroactive revision without notice and therefore I contemptuously ignore the vast majority of it. To my mind, KAMANDI will always be one of the more freakish concepts done by DC, has little or nothing to do with DC's mainstream, pre Crisis continuity, and is now not being used by anyone for anything... and I'm just as content to leave it that way.
Is Robin a freak? I don't know. He wears Peter Pan boots and scaly green underwear and a faggy little yellow cape with a dopey collar, so, I'm thinkin' maybe. I grant you, he might not have worn them by choice; Batman handed him the costume and probably threatened to beat his ass if he didn't put it on, but still... you never know. He seemed pretty cheerful most of the time. He might have liked it.
Gorilla Grodd -
Okay. Either you're a Silver Age DC fan and you're now nodding your head wisely and saying "damn STRAIGHT, he gave an entry to the Stilt-Man, for God's sake, he'd damn well BETTER write up Gorilla Grodd", or you're not, in which case, you're staring at the words 'Gorilla Grodd' in shocked and appalled incredulity and waiting for me to tell you I'm only kidding.
Well, I'm not kidding.
Gorilla Grodd, which is to say, a superintelligent gorilla with advanced psychic powers including telekinesis, telepathy, and mind control, not to mention enough super strength to punch out Superman on occasion, would be freakish even taken entirely out of any context. However, when you place him IN his actual context as a member of the Silver Age Flash's infamous Rogue's Gallery, he becomes more bizarre than a high school marching band playing "In A Gadda Da Vida" with the cymbals chick doing the drum solo.
The Flash's Rogues Gallery is comprised, for the vast most part, of a bunch of losers who nearly all rely on one particular technological gimmick: the Weather Wizard has a wand that controls the weather (don't even try to figure it out, it simply won't make sense); Captain Cold has a gun that fires cold rays and ice and like that, Heat Wave has a gun that shoots out heat beams and fire; the Pied Piper has a magic flute (we won't even go into how that became a double entendre under Bill Loebs), Mirror Master had a lot of mirrors that did different things, Captain Boomerang similarly had gimmicky boomerangs, etc., etc, etc.
The fact that most of these guys should have never even been the remotest hazard to a superhero who can run far faster than the nervous impulse can travel from the brain to the trigger finger is one we won't consider here, because in point of fact, if we're going to take the Silver Age DC Earth seriously, we have to first admit that on a planet patrolled by Superman, the Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and Green Lantern, there should never have been any violent crime of any sort, nor any loss of life from natural disasters, and that's assuming Zatanna didn't simply backwards talk all crime, social injustice, and catastrophe into non-existence with a single barely coherent sentence.
However, Gorilla Grodd was freakish for a Flash villain in that he, along with Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash, was actually the only regular bad guy Flash had who should have seriously given him a good fight, because fast as Barry Allen was, he wasn't faster than thought, and thought was Gorilla Grodd's main weapon.
Leaving aside how he stood out like a sore thumb from the Flash's normal coterie of black hats due to his actual effectiveness against The Fastest Man Alive, Gorilla Grodd was also freaky because he was the only evil member of the otherwise very peaceful and civilized race of advanced mutated futuristic gorillas who dwelt in the hidden African metropolis known as Gorilla City.
Okay, now you're laughing at me, but honestly, I didn't make any of this up. Back hundreds or thousands of years ago, this weird meteor landed in DC Africa and its radiation or fumes or some damn thing caused gorillas in the surrounding jungles to mutate and become super-evolutionarily advanced. (Of course, they still looked, physically, like gorillas, but never mind that, this was a mental evolution thing. Of course, their brain cases did not become discernibly bigger, but never mind that again, geez, what do you think, this is an Alan Moore comic or something? Go reread WATCHMEN and stop bugging me.)
Naturally, these mutated gorillas built a damned big city in the middle of the jungle and hid it with camouflage rays or three dimensional illusion projections or something (They're advanced! They can do that! Shut up!) and all was well, until Gorilla Grodd was born. He was nasty and mean, so the ruler of the gorillas, a wise grey ape named Solivar, exiled Grodd into the outside world, where, you know, there was no one he could hurt except those stupid unevolved hairless human-chimps. And then... well, you can figure the rest out. Gorilla Grodd went on a rampage, Flash beat him up, and in the tradition of superhero comics everywhere, since Flash had responded to the first Gorilla Grodd emergency, Gorilla Grodd then became his problem forevermore, to the point where apparently GG was somehow constrained from that point on to only attacking Central City.
You would think that in the post Crisis DC Universe, which was supposed to be much more credible and believable than the 'silly' and 'childish' Silver Age DC Universe, the entire concept of Gorilla Grodd, including super evolved apes living in a secret city somewhere in the darkest depths of Africa, would have been quietly and permanently dropped. However, Gerard Jones and Mark Waid brought back Gorilla Grodd and the rest of the anthropoid shootin' match in a post Crisis GREEN LANTERN/FLASH crossover, so modern DC fans can rest assured that, like the truth in X-FILES, he's out there somewhere.
The Ultra-Humanite -
While on the subject of gorilla supervillains, we come to the Justice Society of America's arch enemy, a weirdo named the Ultra-Humanite who is actually, apparently, an immortal brain with a super genius intellect, vast technological abilities, and some psionic prowess, who keeps getting transplanted by his various mind controlled minions from one body to another. The Ultra-Humanite spent a lot of time in the Silver Age in the body of a super strong white gorilla, then a bit later showed up as a gorgeous woman, then went back to the white gorilla body for a while. Most recently in JSA, the white gorilla body, with a gaping, empty brain case, was stumbled across by a few members, indicating that the Ultra-Humanite is out there in a new, unknown body, somewhere. Maybe he's Osama Bin Laden.
I'm going to note here that I originally had planned a write up of Congorilla, but on further reflection, I realized that aside from occasional cameo appearances in really strange places, Congorilla never actually showed up anywhere in the Silver Age... he was created and had his own continuing feature as a non-superhero character for the comics of the early 50s before DC's Silver Age brought the superhero comic back as a commercially successful sub genre, and then he was revived in a Modern Age mini series that wasn't half bad by Steve Englehart, and Steve E. used the character in his 'Secret Origin of the Justice League' story, too, and as I say, he showed up a few other places, as well. However, he really wasn't a Silver Age character, I don't know that much about him, and I'm gonna skip him. Gorilla fans of the world, call your lawyers.
Honestly, I have to mention this guy. Originally a Green Lantern villain, created, I'm fairly sure, by Marv Wolfman, this weirdo was a crimeboss who wore a yellow costume that continually bathed him in 'aurex rays' which gave him strength and invulnerability on a level with that of Superman. SUPERMAN. Later on he fought the Flash a few times, and later than that, he kicked around out in space fighting Green Lanterns. Pretty much an utter loser, but, you know, the 'aurex rays' thing, along with the stupid stupid name, made me want to give him a paragraph.
Felix Faust -
One of the JLA's arch villains, Felix Faust, in addition to having a really idiotic name, was also a vastly powerful sorcerer who in early JLA issues always wore a blue bathrobe and a blue pointed hat with stars on it. I think. Or maybe he wore this sort of Egyptian head dress; now I'm not sure. But he looked truly stupid.
He was amazingly powerful, though, and he generally nearly managed to defeat the League every time he fought them (no mean feat) except he'd always get beaten in the end by some totally bullshit plot twist. One time, for example, he'd exiled each member of the JLA onto a planet where the physical laws negated their particular super powers - he put Green Lantern on a planet where everything was yellow (sure, he could have just taken away his power ring, but this was cooler); Hawkman on a planet where gravity was inverted and birds didn't like him (or something), Aquaman on a desert world, Batman on a planet where the physical laws just behaved strangely and unpredictably, Superman on a red sun world, J'onn J'onnz on a planet full of fire, etc. (I forget what he did to Wonder Woman, but it was something similar.)
Fortunately, just in case Felix Faust got the better of them, Batman and Superman had switched costumes and identities before the JLA went off on the mission! So Supes flew off the planet intended to confound Batman, rescued the rest of the JLA, and had the Martian Manhunter rescue Batman, and then they went off and pounded Felix into gravel. It must have sucked to be him, truly.
Anyway, later on, in BOOKS OF MAGIC, Neil Gaiman wrote Felix Faust the way a powerful evil sorcerer really should be written, but that wasn't in the Silver Age.
Mr. Mxyzpltx -
I'm sure I spelled that name wrong, but you know who I mean; the 5th dimensional imp who showed up every once in a while to torment Superman and who could only be defeated by somehow tricking him into saying his own name backwards (which would banish him to his home dimension for 90 days... not long at all in the adult scheme of things, but a seemingly lengthy period of exile when you're 9 years old and reading these things).
Alan Moore rather grandly ended the career of the Silver Age Superman with a lovely so called "Imaginary Story" called "Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow" in which, among other things, Superman deliberately killed Mr. Mxyzptlx by hitting him with the beam from the Phantom Zone projector just as he was saying his name backwards to get his ass home. (It's perhaps the one badly plotted moment in the story, since Mr. Mxyzptlx certainly shouldn't have been worried about the Phantom Zone; he whips around between dimensions pretty much at will.) However, I'll give Moore a moment of plot foolishness (a failing he tends to have, anyway) in exchange for finally seeing this little bastard get squashed like the bug he always was.
The Joker -
Batman has a lot of freakish villains... in fact, I'm not sure Batman has any NORMAL villains; they all seem pretty goddam bizarre... but we'll content ourselves here with giving a write up to the Clown Prince of Crime himself, the Joker.
The Joker has been around nearly as long as Batman himself, and in that time period, he's been portrayed as everything from a mischievous lunatic to a complete sociopath. According to his generally accepted origin, he was originally a crime boss named the Red Hood, who wore this metal helmet to conceal his identity that entirely covered up his features (its cool gimmick was that the wearer looked out through red one way lenses, so from the outside, it looked completely featureless). The Red Hood and his gang were robbing this chemical warehouse when Batman swung in and started beating the crap out of them, as Batman is wont to do. To escape, the Red Hood jumped into a vat of chemicals and swam out through an outflow pipe, but when he crawled out and took the hood off, he found his hair had turned green and his face had been bleached dead white. This drove him crazy, and he vowed vengeance on both the Batman and the people of Gotham City in general.
Later on, long after the Silver Age, Alan Moore wrote one of his all time worst comic book stories, in which he tried to reveal that the Red Hood had actually just been this stooge, a wannabe comedian who had been roped into the chemical factory heist by a pair of gunsels who always dressed up some sap in the red hood in order to make the police think he was the ringleader, and concentrate on him. It was without a doubt one of Moore's most poorly written stories, and his depiction of both the Joker and the Batman were so generic and uninspired that I felt like I was reading something by Mike Barr the whole time. I personally don't believe a word of any of it, but even to this day, the Joker's real name, if he has one, has never been revealed, nor have we been given any authoritative indication of what his background might have been prior to him becoming the Red Hood and eventually, the Joker.
The Joker was inarguably written at his absolute best by Steve Englehart in Englehart's now legendary "The Laughing Fish" two parter, drawn by Marshall Rogers during those two's brilliant run on DETECTIVE COMICS in the late 1970s. An aging Joker was also handled pretty well by Frank Miller in THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. In general, the Joker tends to be hands down everyone's favorite Batman villain, and well, he's pretty undeniably a freak.
As I mentioned above, virtually all of Batman's bad guys are a freaky lot - the Penguin, the Riddler, the various Clayfaces, Dr. Hugo Strange, Two Face, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Catwoman, the Mad Hatter, the Scarecrow, Poison Ivy... DC's trademarked nuthouse, Arkham Asylum, is almost exclusively populated with Batman villains. However, while they're all freakish, none of them seem particularly funny or entertaining to write about at this moment, so I'm going to give them a big miss.
The Tattooed Man -
No, really. I only know about this wank because he was a member of the Injustice Gang once, but apparently, he's covered in tattoos made out of radioactive ink that he can bring to life by touching one and exerting his will, which he can then, somehow, mentally control. (The tattoo, not his will.) What the hell are you TALKING about, John, you're saying, bleary eyed and bewildered, and well you should, too, but this guy was a real, actual super-villain... I think he fought Green Lantern, which, you know, with the power of living tattoos, is certainly who I'd pick to take on.
Honestly, if I had radioactive ink to tattoo myself with, I suspect I'd content myself with getting the entire WB network starlet line up illustrated all over my arms and then just stay home and have a good time, but I'm obviously not supervillain material. My recollection is Aquaman smacked the crap out of this guy in the one JLA story I saw him in, which I personally would find quite humiliating.
Now, when I saw this guy, he was more or less sensibly wearing a uniform consisting of trunks and a cape, which sounds revolting but left most of his skin, and therefore, his tattooed weaponry, accessible for activation. Apparently, in his original appearances, he dressed like a sailor, which I honestly don't even want to try to visualize.
Imagine Sonny Bono with a great body, wearing brown leather panties, brown leather thigh high boots rather like a fisherman's waders, and a brown leather open fronted vest that came down to just below his manly nipples and had yellow trim with black stripes. Now stop screaming; this guy, as drawn by Curt Swan, was a recurring Superman opponent throughout the mid-DC Silver Age... enough of one, in fact, that George Perez drew him into one panel of Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened To the Man of Tomorrow".
I'd like to say that someone like Elliot S! Maggin or Bob Rozakis created him, and maybe they did, but I associate him with Cary Bates, which makes me sad. Vartox was basically the Superman of some distant planet where presumably everyone looked like Sonny Bono and dressed like a fruit, and I forget exactly why he first showed up on Earth and fought with, you know, the Superman of OUR planet, but it turned out he was actually a hero, so they became buddies, sort of. You know, as much as Superman can be with a guy who looks like Sonny Bono and dresses like one of the Village People trying out for professional wrestling.
Vartox actually did not have Kryptonian style super powers, which made him rather distinctive from all the otherworldly Superman types who had exactly the same powers as Superman but who lived under blue suns or something else weird like that, but instead had advanced psionic abilities, which allowed him to fling Superman all over the landscape pretty much at will. Nice work if you can get it.
Lana Lang later on had a thing with ol' Vartox, but I don't know how that came out. As far as I know, he did not survive into the post Crisis DC Universe, and honestly, you can see why. In fact, at this moment I'm not even sure if Lana survived into the post Crisis DC Universe, or if, like all the rest of the Superboy cast members except Ma and Pa Kent, she was consigned to oblivion. (I understand Pete Ross is now a short black male according to the new WB show SMALLVILLE, which seems... odd... but Time Marches On.)
Captain Strong -
I'm actually pretty sure Cary Bates created this fairly blatant Popeye swipe as an opponent for Superman, and as with Vartox, I'm really sorry he did, too. Captain Strong was a sailor man who discovered a magical (or radioactive) seaweed that, when he ate it, gave him amazing levels of super strength and invulnerability and vision powers. I think he actually flew by exhaling super breath through his pipe, too, although honestly, I hope my utterly demented mind is just making that up.
While Cap'n Strong was in reality a fairly nice guy, too much indulgence in his secret whacky weed eventually drove him bananas and he went on a rampage, necessitating that Superman show up and beat him like a redheaded stepchild. Unfortunately, it turned out that Cap'n Strong's whacky weed was powered by something or other that Supes was vulnerable to... red sun radiation or Kryptonite or magic, I really can't remember and honestly don't want to... so this wasn't as easy as it should have been. In the end, though, Superman was triumphant.
You'd think DC would have learned its lesson, but Cap'n Strong actually returned for at least one more adventure after his initial one. Woe, woe is us.
The Cyborg With A Kryptonite Heart! I mean, seriously, what the HELL was DC thinking with THIS guy? I have no idea who created him, although deep in my soul, I surlily suspect it was Gerry Conway. Whatever the case may be, Metallo was, well, a cyborg with a Kryptonite heart (don't even ask me how that works) and he liked to attack Superman, which, given that he had a Kryptonite heart, was admittedly a good deal more sensible than attacking the Flash or the Martian Manhunter, but perhaps not quite as bright as simply moving to Ecuador and lying on a beach.
Probably the stupidest appearance of Metallo was indeed written by Gerry Conway, and is in fact so unbelievably mind bogglingly stupid that I've often used it as an exemplar of everything that was wrong with either the Silver Age Superman or Gerry Conway's writing, depending on which I'm ridiculing at the time. In this particular story, Metallo somehow gets a gun that will exchange the heart of whoever fires it with the heart of whoever gets hit by its beam. And you're not going to believe this, but this story actually gets WORSE from here. Superman finds out about this gun, and then confronts Metallo, who zaps him with it. Superman goes 'agh', turns green, falls down, and apparently dies. The cops show up, cuff a deliriously happy Metallo, and take him away to the super-pokey, at which point, Superman gets back up and explains the following:
Knowing what Metallo's ray did, and also knowing that if Metallo were to fire the gun and hit anything other than a functional Kryptonian heart he would just die (because, presumably, there would now be a lump of inert matter in his chest taking the place of the lump of inert Kryptonite that is currently there, look, did I make this up? No! So don't yell at ME about it!) and for some reason not wanting Metallo the Cyborg With The Kryptonite Heart to just die stupidly and incredible if utterly deserved agony due to his own idiotic and murderous schemes, what Superman did was, fly at invisible superspeed to his Fortress of Solitude and into the Bottle City of Kandor, where he found a street accident that had just taken place where the victim was clinically dead but his heart was still beating. Supes extracted said heart, tucked it into a lead box, flew back (all this at invisible superspeed, mind, and apparently, Metallo and the many many passersby didn't notice the gale force hurricane winds whipped up by all this high velocity bullet like air transport in their immediate vicinity, nor did they pay any attention to the couple of sonic booms blowing windows out all up and down Manhattan), held the lead box containing the still beating Kryptonian heart up in front of Metallo's beam, painted himself green, and fell down pretending to be dead.
The Kryptonian heart in the lead box went into Metallo's chest (I'm still wondering how a guy whose cybernetic life support system gets its power from a chunk of radioactive otherworldly rock suddenly is capable of living with even a Kryptonian heart abruptly appearing in its place in the middle of his rib cage, but never mind) and the chunk of Kryptonite from Metallo's chest went into the lead box, Superman played dead, the cops came and took away Metallo (who, up until this point, has been well established as being able to give, you know, SUPERMAN, a good hand to hand tussle when he wants to, but still, he stands there and lets the boys in blue cuff him) voila, all is well, all is well.
There are so many things we don't want to think about in this scenario that typing them would take an entire article unto itself. I'll point out, though, that when Superman enters the Bottle City of Kandor, he loses all his superpowers, so if he were to fly in there at invisible superspeed - even if we grant that at the same invisible superspeed he flew through his shrink ray and became microscopic first - he would immediately become utterly powerless, at which point, at what I'm assuming has to be supersonic velocity he would hurtle out of the sky and smash with catastrophic impact into the center of the last surviving city of doomed Krypton, most likely not only killing himself, but destroying Kandor and everyone in it from the meteoric impact's massive blast effect.
But never mind that, I'm just saying here, not only is Metallo the Cyborg With A Kryptonite Heart a truly mindbogglingly stupid idea, he's also freakish not merely for, well, freakishness, but also for being involved in what is without a doubt the stupidest Superman story ever depicted in four color sequential fiction, and yes, I'm including the Golden Age stories where Superman infiltrates a football team to smash a gambling racket, or relights the sun with a giant match.
I will note in passing, though, that I wonder exactly what Superman's 'invisible superspeed' would work out to in actual miles per hour or minute or second, if you were to compute the distance covered (Metropolis to the Arctic Circle and back again) in considerably less than a second. Still, it's not anywhere near lightspeed, so I guess he could do it, but it had to be incredibly supersonic.
I will also point out the blindingly obvious, which is that if Superman can do all of that stuff at invisible superspeed, he could certainly have done something far, far simpler, like, y'know, take the gun away from Metallo before he could fire it and pound him into gravel. (Metallo's Kryptonite radiation tended to keep Superman at a distance, but let's face it, if Superman can fly to the Arctic Circle and back in less than a second, he can whip over into an area of heavy radioactivity and disassemble an idiot cyborg and get back out again before he's substantially affected by the high energy particles. And let's not even talk about Supes standing safely a mile away and melting Metallo's gun down to slag with his heat vision.)
The Late, Great Jeff Webb actually came up with a somewhat feasible explanation for many of the truly idiotic and contrived things that characters like Superman, the Flash, and Green Lantern did all through the Silver Age. He posited a specific intellectual syndrome, much like Turret's, that he called 'immediate hypothesis actualization' in which basically, these heroes all had to implement whatever plan, tactic, or strategy occurred to them that was even remotely feasible within the constraints of their powers instantaneously, regardless of how enormously stupid it might be.
'Immediate hypothesis actualization', in the case of many near-omnipotent Golden and Silver Age heroes, was usually regrettably combined with 'initial inappropriately complex visualization', which means that they never thought of the simple stuff (Taking The Gun Away At Superspeed, or Using The Power Ring To Make The Villain Go To Sleep) first, but instead, they always came up with something utterly Byzantine in its elaborate, tortuous complexity right out of the box... which they were then forced to immediately jump on, without considering any further alternative approaches to problem solving, like, you know, Blasting The Villain Into Sludge.
To make things simpler, I just call it Webb's Syndrome or Omnipotent Superhuman's Impairment and leave it at that.
Getting back to Metallo, I believe the big lug also once fought Blue Devil, which certainly didn't help his case any.
Alan Moore nearly redeemed Metallo by writing him effectively, with cool dialogue, in "Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow", but he had to change the character's concept a whole bunch to do it.
Terra Man -
A Superman villain who was really an Old West cowboy/outlaw. He got kidnapped by aliens and wound up wandering the stars for an indefinite period, probably at near-light speed, which explains why when he finally got back to Earth, it was the late 20th Century. During his journeys he got his various cowboy accoutrements updated with, like, ray beams and anti gravity technology, so his six shooters fired death rays and he had this flying saddle (I think; I could be flashing on TOP 10, though) and glowing energy spurs and, you know, like that. Why Superman didn't just beat this guy into taffy and then send him to the Phantom Zone I'll never know, but he became an alarmingly recurring villain throughout the Silver Age, although, thank God, Alan Moore didn't even mention him in "Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow"... I don't think, anyway.
Not so much an entry on Captain Marvel, his whacked out wizard mentor, or any individual character in that whole zany crew, but rather a place to deal with all of them, because they're pretty much ALL goddam freaks, from Billy frickin' Batson the 14 year old news commentator right on down through (God help us all) Uncle Marvel, and certainly including Mr. Tawny the Talking Tiger, Mr. Mynde the World Conquering Worm, the three Lieutenants Marvel, and Captain Marvel, Jr., the only superhero in the world who can't say his name out loud because the first four syllables of it turn him back into crippled newsboy Freddie Freeman.
I mean, GEEZ.
In fact, it may be easier to note at this point that the only really non-freaky character in this whole whacked out zoo is Billy's twin sister Mary, who upon speaking the mystic word Shazam! transforms into a costumed, invincibly powered version of herself who quite sensibly takes the name Mary Marvel. Mary, while being one of the majorly hot pieces of super powered jailbait for the entire history of superhero funnybooks from the Golden right on up to the Modern Age, is in no fashion I can remember or discern even remotely freaky. Which is, I suppose, a pity, but then, the Munsters had their Marilyn, the Inhumans had their Crystal, and I suppose the Marvel Family needs its normal (if unbelievably gorgeous) female member, too.
But back to the freaks, although honestly, I'd like to dwell for paragraphs and paragraphs on Mary Marvel's truly luscious babeishness, but work we must, so work we shall. Starting with the wizard Shazam, we find an old guy who sits up on top of a big mountain at the far end of time and space, and yet, simultaneously, lives in an abandoned subway tunnel decorated with murals lovingly depicting the seven deadly sins of mankind. This guy's raison d'etre, as it were, seems to be hanging around waiting for some good pure noble cartoon fellow to show up, so he can invest said wondrous stick figure with amazing godlike powers and sic him on all sorts of weird and comical criminal figures.
You, I, or even Barnaby Jones could doubtless think of a nearly endless list of stuff we'd do with the Powers of Shazam that would be more fun than hanging out waiting to turn stray Egyptians or errant 14 year olds into mesomorphic, near omnipotent civic activists, but Shazam seems to lack imagination in this regard. However, what he loses in creativity he makes up in durability, since he gets crushed into goo by a damned big boulder in his very first appearance and that doesn't slow him down for an instant; he continues to appear as a regular character in every series Captain Marvel has ever had, even though he suffers from that crazy little thing we call death.
We've already dealt with Billy Batson, who is actually pretty normal, aside from the fact that he says a magic word which turns him into a super powered adult version of himself and apparently never even beats off, he willingly turns back into a non-super powered 14 year old again at the end of every adventure even though no one could feasibly ever make him do so, and he somehow has a job as the Golden Age equivalent of a shock jock even though he's too young to even get working papers (leaving aside the fact that he's an orphan and has no one to sign such papers anyway).
(Actually, it occurs to me at this moment that weird though it is that Captain Marvel would ever willingly turn back into Billy Batson again unless he were forced to do so by someone taking hostages in Iran, it's even more bizarre that his sister Mary would ever revert to her mortal form, since her appearance, other than her clothing, remains identical from one state to the next, and she's just WAY more powerful as Mary Marvel than as Mary Batson. And most bizarre of all is that the studly, perfect, and superbly superhuman Captain Marvel Jr. would ever turn back into hobbling gimp Freddy Freeman, who sells newspapers on the corner and presumably lives in a cardboard box in an alley somewhere when he's not saving the universe from giant earthworms with mind control powers. And this gets even more deeply weird when we get to the Lieutenant Marvels. Which we will.)
Moving on from Billy, Mary, and Freddy (whose only real freakishness, as I mentioned already, lies in the fact that his magic word is actually the first four syllables of his superhero name, and he should never, ever, unless blackmailed, hypnotized, or severely hallucinating, want to turn back into his 'normal' identity), we come to the last 'member' of the Marvel Family, Billy and Mary's Uncle Dudley, who despite the fact that he has no actual super powers and, in fact, should be confined to a maximum security geriatric home for the safety of himself and others, insists on following Billy and Mary around and, whenever they go into action as superheroes, shouting 'Shazam!' his damn self and then whipping off his outer clothing to reveal his very own tailor made Marvel Family costume.
Now, the vast majority of people not actually under the influence of crack cocaine at the time would regard this as an act of the utmost lunacy and immediately have the old beezer locked up in a bin for his own good (and we won't even discuss the many, many unpublished episodes where Uncle Dudley 'forgot' to put on his costume and just whipped off his street clothes to reveal, well, Uncle Dudley, because the Marvels hushed all those up and you don't want to mess with the Marvel Family, no sir you don't), but Billy and Mary and Freddy, for some reason not fathomable to the mind of man, all 'humored' the elderly whack job by pretending he really did have super powers and he really could help them fight crime and mystic menaces and such like, contriving ways to make it seem like he was actually useful while in fact, hauling his fat red costumed ass around like a bag of wrinkled, cellulite laden, Alzheimer's stricken laundry.
Had any of the Marvels actually ever employed Uncle Dudley as a missile or bashing weapon this could all have been vaguely understandable, but in point of fact, he was never anything but comic relief and an active impediment, and honestly, he should really have been off at the old folks home sucking down poached eggs liberally sprinkled with finely ground Thorazine.
Now, having covered Cap, Cap Jr., Mary, and Uncle Marvel, we find ourselves at the far fringes of lunacy for the actual Marvel Family itself, namely, the Lieutenants Marvel. These are three guys who are all also named Billy Batson and who also have the ability to gain mystic godlike powers when saying the word Shazam!, but only if all three of them are together at the time and say it all at once. I can't honestly recall who they all were, but I remember one of them was a hick (I believe they called him Country Billy or Hayseed Billy or Backwoods Inbred Moron Billy or something like that), one of them was overweight (him they just called, in a fit of originality, Fat Billy) and... hmmmm... one of them was a Western type, and I think they called him Cowboy Billy.
Now, to my mind, it's bizarre enough that these guys could all turn into Captain Marvel like entities simply because they have the same name as the real Captain Marvel... I mean, that's like saying that if every other Clark Kent on Earth gets together in a cafeteria and pulls their jackets open at the same time, they'll find a blue sweatshirt with a big red S underneath and gain Kryptonian powers.
Still, magic works in weird ways and clearly, Shazam, for all his vast experience, is getting a little bit senile and its affecting the precision of his spell casting. After all, why the hell should Mary Batson have the ability to turn into Mary Marvel just because she's Billy's twin sister? That makes no sense whatsoever, so I suppose the Lieutenant Marvels are just one more rung on an increasingly loopy ladder.
But what strikes me as being truly bizarre is that any of the Lieutenants... Hick Billy, Fat Billy, or Cowboy Billy... no matter how moronic they might actually be, would ever, after having the enormous good luck of being initially transformed into actual super powered Marvel family members, would ever even remotely consider turning back into their miserable and pathetic mortal selves. I mean, I know that were I Fat Billy, and some 14 year old twerp in a red sweatshirt who stole my damn name were to chirp cheerily at me that the adventure is over and now I can turn back into my pudgy persona and go back to shoveling down the Twinkies while watching reruns of CHARLES IN CHARGE on TV and wishing the good looking blonde who just walked by my window wouldn't laugh herself into hysterics if I asked her out, well, I suspect I'd politely demur. No thanks there, li'l fella, I think I'll just remain a godlike entity for a while. Lemme see if that redhead over there likes fat guys who can benchpress Cadillacs, whaddya say? And after that I've got a date with a bank vault. You run along now, Kid Billy, I'll be fine.
Still, ghostly wizards, dotty uncles in bright red tights, 14 year old kids who preferred being normal or crippled adolescents to godlike superhumans, and utterly sense free Lieutenants Marvel are hardly the outer extreme of freakishness in the Captain Marvel creative context.
Supporting characters of Captain Marvel included humanoid talking tigers walking around in business suits extolling eruditely on all manner of minutia, and Cap's enemies numbered among them mutated earthworms who wore radios around their necks, short little bald guys who looked like Simon Bar-Sinister, and a bunch of other people who were REALLY freaky.
However, unfortunately I haven't read enough of the original Captain Marvel adventures to really go into great detail on such redoubtables as Mr. Tawny the Talking Tiger, Professor Sivana, Mr. Mynde, or the Monster Society of Evil. However, this seems like a good time to note that in the late 1970s, I believe, Alan Moore and Alan Davis were tasked with reviving a British strip called Marvelman, which could most generously be described as having been 'inspired' by C.C. Beck's Captain Marvel. Moore and Davis' revival of Marvelman has since been (for the most part, correctly) hailed as one of the brilliant, revolutionary, and inspirational superhero stories of all time, and in it, Moore dealt with many of the bizarre lapses in logic I've mentioned above, not least by having one of his Marvel Family characters simply decide to stay in his superhuman form permanently and subtly utilize his powers to enrich himself.
Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Jimmy Olson -
Despite the fact that freakiness abounded in the Golden and early Silver Ages regarding Superman, Superboy, and Supergirl, especially during the Weisinger era but certainly not limited to it, I've decided to eschew long write ups on the Man of Steel, Boy of Steel, and Girl of Steel (the first two of whom, it should be noted, were the same character at different points in his entropic development), because while one could argue coherently that they were indeed in many particulars somewhat freaky (Lord spare me from having to delve into details of the Superbaby stories I dimly remember), the fact remains that freakiness was in no way part of their deliberate art or charm.
Yes, some of the sexual subtext in some Superman stories, and especially some Supergirl stories, was pretty damned strange if not outright sick, as we've already seen under "Comet the Superhorse" in the "Legion of Superpets" entry, and as we'll study somewhat below in our paragraphs on Jimmy Olsen. Yet, for the most part, despite the utterly whacked out and hallucinatory plot devices and contrivances poured into the Superman mythos under the aegis of editor Mort Weisinger, Superman at all his various ages as well as his chipper cousin Supergirl remained pretty straightforward, cheerful, staunch, decent, conformist, and, regardless of how odd it might seem given their actual alien origins, relentlessly All American. Therefore, I'm going to skip over detailing their various adventures, some of which were, admittedly, remarkably freaky, and I'm not even going to go into detail on just how weird some of the stuff Superman kept in the Fortress of Solitude was, or mention (again) how deeply disturbed his actual relationship with his teen age cousin Kara was.
No, I'm just going to skip over all that, and get straight to the REAL freaks in the Superman mythos:
Lana Lang, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olson, who were all pretty major freaks in their own right. Lana and Lois were for the most part mirror images of each other, and their primary freakiness lay in their absolute insistence that not only did Superboy/man have a secret identity (something that honestly would never have occurred to anyone who wasn't actually a comic book character, since Superfella never wears a mask), but that he was also really Clark Kent (yeah, right) and it was their god given duty to prove it once and for all, not only to their own satisfaction but to The Entire World, although exactly what useful purpose that would serve I doubt either of them ever gave a moment's thought to. Of course, when they weren't trying to prove Superman was Clark, they were generally trying to get Superdude to either make out with or marry them, and the insane extremes that both of them were perfectly willing to go to in order to accomplish either of these goals were always entertaining, frequently hysterically funny, and generally ludicrous to a sociopathic degree.
Despite the fact that both women deeply deeply believed that Clark Kent was Superdude, it never seemed to occur to either of them that they should just, you know, try to jump CLARK, who would probably be much more amenable to their advances than the generally aloof and inaccessible Boy/Man of Steel. Apparently, even though both chicks were absolutely convinced that the two guys were one and the same, neither was interested in the persona who wasn't a celebrity. Given that, one really can feel no sympathy whatsoever for the seemingly endless parade of humiliations and degradations that befell both of them in the relentlessly patronizing and chauvinistic Weisinger era.
In addition to inevitably taking really contrived and hilarious pratfalls in the course of their snoopy or amorous campaigns, both women also went through fairly frequent transformations into superhuman or inhuman forms. Since Lois had her own title for much of the Silver Age, she suffered more than Lana did, but both of them at one time or another gained and lost Kryptonian type powers, the ability to cast spells, magical amulets, various animal forms, and a whole buncha other deeply weird stuff. However, to the best of my knowledge, neither of them ever wound up making out with transformed horses, which certainly gives them a leg up on Supergirl.
Other than their respective hair colors, there were a few other details that distinguished the adult Lana from Lois Lane. One was that Lana Lang's father was a well known archeologist whose various studies and expeditions, as you would expect, were frequently used as a fulcrum for various completely insane adventures in which magical talismans were uncovered, ancient monsters were unearthed that seemed dead, or petrified, but that even an 8 year old immediately knew were only rapt in enchanted coils of somnolent slumber, or vast stone honeycombs that acted as mystical portals into strange alternate realities where anyone not wearing a cape was considered a slave were discovered in the middle of the desert... and inevitably, Lana, or Pete Ross, or sometimes Jimmy Olsen or Lois Lane or her even ditzier (scary though that thought is) sister Lucy, would activate the talisman, awaken the ancient entity, or wander through the stone honeycomb, with, as the TV Guide scribes like to say, 'whacky results'.
I vaguely recall Lois and Lucy had some kind of eccentric parent figure also, but I could be just transposing the Superman TV show's Professor Potter character onto them.
Jimmy Olsen, billed throughout the Silver Age as Superman's Pal, although for the life of me I never actually saw what in the name of Christ Superman possibly got out of the relationship, was if anything even freakier than Lois and Lana.
First, Jimmy frequently cross-dressed in order to get a story, and apparently, judging from how various gangsters, thugs, alien monarchs and other macho men treated his female guises, made a helluva cute girl, too. (I guess we can call that the Bugs Bunny Factor.) Beyond that, though, Jimmy underwent bizarre metamorphoses the like of which even Lois had never dreamed of, transforming into giant turtles, puppets, demented space tyrants, and god alone knows what all else. Jimmy, like Lois, Lana, and occasionally even Pete Ross, often gained truly weird super powers for the course of a story (in one, an Indian shaman gifted him with the ability to bring pictures to life under his control, which would have sent me running straight for the Victoria's Secret catalogue or at least some old Kirby FF issues with Sue and Crystal in them, but noooooo, Jimmy stuck with animating the Jolly Green Giant from a discarded can of cream corn in order to break up a bank robbery, the thicko), and perhaps most freakish of all was his Superman Souvenir Collection.
This consisted of various different utterly cool, frequently deranged, and often insanely powerful, artifacts that Superman had picked up on his various adventures, each of which embodied strange alien technology or had weird magical powers or gave off some strange radiation that did something profoundly weird yet really neat. Jimmy had all this stuff, and frequently broke it out to show for the entertainment of poor orphans at a boy's home or something, and yet, it never seemed to occur to him that he could load himself down with any random half dozen of these gewgaws and be so powerful he could take over pretty much any African, Southeast Asian, or South American country and live literally like an ancient god-emperor of Classical Rome.
And of course, anyone who knows anything at all about Jimmy Olsen is aware of the utter freakishness that was the Superman Signal Watch, a little device Superman had, for some utterly insane, completely deluded reason, given to Jimmy. To JIMMY, mind you, not to Lois, who for all her annoying wiles was drop dead gorgeous, had a great rack, desperately wanted to ball him, and who got into trouble at least as much as Jimmy did... nooooo, he gave this thing to Jimmy, the red haired freckled cub reporter for the Daily Planet. (And let's remember, Jimmy is also the one he gave all the magical goodies, alien artifacts, enchanted jewelry, etc, etc, etc to, as well. I mean, geez, are we starting to figure out just why Lana and Lois had so much trouble hustling Superflit into the sack?)
What the Superman Signal Watch did was, well, signal Superman. Any time Jimmy got into trouble... by which we mean, any time he'd been out of bed for five minutes, and sometimes when he slept in... he'd just push the button on his Superman Signal Watch and this hypersonic signal would go out and Supes would come a'runnin' (well, actually, a'flyin') to save his little buddy's ass. I mean, is this deranged or what? Superman could be in another galaxy curing a race of alien Albert Schweitzers of horrible gravity cancer that is about to exterminate their entire culture, but if Jimmy hits that watch button... ZOOM! Half a second later, the Big Blue Boy Scout is zipping in to make the save.
Of course, we should also note here that in addition to the Superman Signal Watch and the extensive gifts of magical and futuristic accessories and doodads, Superman and Jimmy also took fairly frequent, long vacations together to the Bottle City of Kandor, where they dressed up costumes and fought crime as Flamebird (now THERE's a heterosexual superhero name for you) and Nightwing, who were generally referred to as "the Batman and Robin of Kandor". And we all know what Batman and Robin were doing up at Stately Wayne Manor when Alfred wasn't around (or maybe he ran the camcorder; who knows with these Brits). So I think we can pretty much see here exactly how it is that Superman marrying Lois Lane and having super-children of some sort was, at least during the Silver Age, only ever an Imaginary Story.
Having cast deep and relentlessly un-PC aspersions on the sexuality of most of the Superman Family, you would think that as far as the DC Universe goes, My Work Here Is Done. However, one cannot exit any article about freaks of the Silver Age DC Universe without discussing at least in passing:
Tommy Tomorrow -
Freakish if for no other reason than the fact that in a era redolent for mind bogglingly stupid SF comic book characters, he was without a doubt the stupidest one ever published by National (and yes, I'm aware just how damning an indictment that is), Tommy Tomorrow was an officer of some sort of futuristic Space Patrol type organization, who fought interplanetary crime in a fishbowl space helmet and purple shorts. You think I'm making this up, and I wish it was so, but alas, wishing will not make it true. Tommy Tomorrow had a real continuing feature in some comic like WEIRD SPACE ADVENTURES or some goddam thing, right alongside other, better characters and concepts like Adam Strange and the Space Museum.
Tommy had typically contrived, vaguely science fictional adventures which were, as stated above, mostly notable for their unbelievably boring and banal stupidity, even in the context of boring and banal stupidity that ruled SF based comics at the time. About the only specific thing I can recall about Tommy is one adventure in which he was stranded on an airless asteroid and needed to recharge his space batteries or some fucking thing, so he fashioned a kite on the end of a long line of copper wire which attracted a big space vulture thing that shot lightning out of its eyes.
I mean, Dear God! An enthusiastic willingness to suspend my disbelief and a wide eyed child's sense of wonder allowed me, at age 11 or so, to more or less eagerly embrace the adventures of such wildly variant and admittedly (from an adult perspective) intelligence free concepts like the Atomic Knights, Adam Strange, Starr Hawkins and his roboslut Whateverthefrick, and even the Legion of Superheroes, but I was good and goddamned if I was going to sit back silently and accept this naked-kneed numbnuts cluttering up the already-strained-to-credulity's-breaking-point future continuity of National comics at that time.
After reading a few Tommy Tomorrow adventures reprinted as back ups in various DC comics at the time, I was vehemently wishing Tommy and whichever moron had created him into hell's lowermost and cruelest circles, where the rest of DC's SF heroes would be safe from associating with the panty-waisted, goody goody, blond and blue eyed asswipe.
Thankfully, other than this spate of reprints, no one at DC showed the slightest interest in doing anything with Tommy throughout the remainder of the Silver Age, so I didn't have to somehow raise enough money for train fare to New York City and get adolescently medieval on anyone's ass at National.
However, in the final issue of the cannot-be-damned-enough CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, Marv Wolfman lost his mind entirely and decided to tie up some loose alternate timelines by revealing that at some point in DC's future, a young blond male child would be found in fallout shelter Command D after a limited nuclear exchange, and this child would be raised by the Space Patrol to become their most celebrated officer (wait for it) Tommy Tomorrow. (My shrieks of anguish could doubtless be heard in Southeast Asia when I read that particularly horrifying caption, and it is well for Marv Wolfman that I possess no actual psychokinetic powers or his head would doubtless have exploded like a Cronenberg special effect at that exact moment.)
After that, Howard Chaykin re-envisioned Tommy Tomorrow as a sexually perverse sadist figure in his generally loathsome, if well illustrated, TWILIGHT mini-series, a characterization which I not only had no objection to, but would probably have enjoyed, if it hadn't been so hard to distinguish Tommy from all the other sexually perverse sadist figures in that particularly clueless and pretty much wretched publishing event.
Tommy Tomorrow seems to have no existence whatsoever in the Modern Age DC Universe as it is being presented this week, but if you don't like that, wait ten minutes and then check again.
And, because I've run out of Silver Age DC freaks and this chapter is still WAAAAAY shorter than the Marvel chapter (and I have to go back and add the Guardians of the Galaxy yet to the Marvel chapter, too) I'm going to throw in, as a Free Bonus Prize, two freaks from the short lived and not particularly lamented Atlas Comics line of the 1970s...
An Atlas hero I remember fairly well, mostly because the one issue of his series I read was drawn by Steve Ditko, and looked great. I can't remember this guy's real name, or what he did for a living... no, wait, I can, he was a doctor, and his name was Leonard something. He was also, like nearly all the Atlas characters, casually homicidal; in the issue I read, he dealt pretty brutally and lethally with some masked goons that he caught doing... something... bad... I'm sure. (In point of fact, Atlas stories were often so generic and self referential that the goons may not have been doing anything bad; they may have just been lurking in an alley dressed like goons.
By the 1970s, this was often enough to guarantee a beating from any passing vigilante in tights and a mask, but in the Atlas universe, it was enough to get you scragged.) He got his powers from some African witch doctor giving him a secret serum, or some damn thing. He had an interesting blue and red costume that most likely would have just looked boring drawn by anyone but Ditko, and he fought a villain named the Blue Leopard (I'm totally serious) who had apparently been given the same powers as Tiger-Man and sent after him to avenge the injustice of a white man having the sacred heart shaped herbs, or something. I vaguely recall discovering a third issue, or maybe it was the first issue, of this thing in a bargain bin and finding it all but unreadable, as it wasn't drawn by Ditko. The one issue I remember was scripted by Gerry Conway, and most likely wasn't written that well. For the most part, Tiger-Man seemed to be pretty much a bad Spider-Man swipe with a moral code straight out of a DEATH WISH movie.
The Destructor - One of the few other Atlas heroes I can remember, and the only one whose adventures I'd sincerely recommend seeking out, as at least the first three issues of this series are a lot of fun. Written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Steve Ditko, this character, like pretty much all the Atlas characters, had a lot of really stupid stuff going on in his basic concept. Nonetheless, Archie didn't seem to take him all that seriously and did an excellent job with the limited material he had to work with. And, of course, the Ditko art was beautiful, especially since the first two issues were inked by Wally Wood and the third one was inked by Ditko himself.
What makes the Destructor freakish is that, to my knowledge, he's the only superhero who starts out as a cheap hood working for the Mob and ends up as a superpowered costumed avenger determined to bring them down.
The Destructor was a teen age punk who was working his way up in the local rackets, much like a youthful Henry Hill, when he got a bad break and the crime boss in charge of his particular crew decided rather casually to have him rubbed out. At the time the hoods arrived to waste him, he was arguing with his father (a brilliant but generally overlooked scientist who was, naturally, working on a formula to maximize the human potential), and the resultant hail of bullets cut both punk and dad down. Thinking them both dead, the gunsels departed, at which point, the devoted scientist revived enough to dose his dying son with the only existent sample of his super-serum, before finally expiring. Naturally, the serum maximized his son's human potential, giving him effectively superhuman capacities and allowing him to survive the gunshot wounds, and, as you'd imagine, the son then vowed vengeance on the criminals who had killed his father.
Tightly plotted, tersely written, and, within the limits of an Atlas Comic, well executed, this was perhaps the only real gem to come out of the whole misbegotten Atlas line. There was a lot of dumb stuff, especially in the first issue, where Goodwin basically just got the mandatory superhero elements over with as soon as possible... the character needed a costume, so he found one in a closet (apparently, his father had been planning to have him act as a 'superhero' to publicize the serum), the character needed a justification for calling himself The Destructor, so he basically just decided to, with the shouted word balloon "I'll be a destroyer... a disruptor.. a DESTRUCTOR!" (sure, right after destroyer and disruptor, that's the next 'd' word that would occur to me, too).
The first issue concerned itself with the character's origin and then his successful efforts to get vengeance on the hoods who killed his dad, during which he manages to kill a fairly generic masked assassin type called Slaymaster. In the second, the character decides to go after the big boss of the underworld family he'd been a part of, and winds up tangling with some villain with a mechanical fist whose name I can't remember right now. In the third issue, he goes up against one of the comics' industries many characters who have been called The Huntress, although this one was made a little more interesting by the fact that she had a laser-whip and two well trained pet leopards (the Destructor scragged them both, so we never found out if they were well trained at anything but killing people the Huntress didn't like).
I know there was at least one more issue of the series that was also drawn by Ditko, but it was written by Gerry Conway, and I've resisted the impulse to pick it up when I see it occasionally in quarter bins. But the first three are definitely worth getting hold of, if you like goofy superhero adventure with fun characters and gorgeous artwork.
Okay. There are doubtless more freaky characters lumbering around the Silver Age DC continuity that I've overlooked, and hell, if I'm going to toss in some Atlas characters I suppose it could be argued that I've really opened the floodgates and shouldn't be stopping here anyway. However, I'm going to, because I've been writing this particular article for about four months now and enough is, frankly, enough. If I left out any of YOUR favorite freaks from the Silver Age DC or Marvel Universes, feel free to leave a comment telling me so.