Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and Captain America have become giants in pop culture through comic books, TV shows and feature films. But, have you heard of Funnyman? What about Man O’ Metal, Mr. Muscles or Pat Parker, War Nurse?
Probably not, unless you are as big a comic book fan as Jon Morris. The Seattle-based cartoonist and graphic designer behind the comic book blog “Gone & Forgotten” has put together “The League of Regrettable Superheroes” (Quirk Books, $24.95).
The book looks at comic book heroes who have put on a cape or spandex suit to fight crime but never gained the notoriety achieved by others.
“The name ‘regrettable’ doesn’t mean that they were just bad ideas. Some were just weird ideas. Some were bad execution. And with others, their publisher just vanished in the night,” Morris says.
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His prime example is the 1939 Centaur Publishing offering “Amazing-Man.” The character was well received but Centaur Comics went out of business in 1940.
Morris has seen superheroes leave faster than Superman at a Kryptonite quarry. His love of comics started when he was young. His father, a German immigrant, read comic books to learn English. So while his friends were reading the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” in the ’80s, Morris was poring over classic comics from the ’40s and ’50s.
That means he knew about good superhero comic book characters, such as the original Captain Marvel in Whiz Comics who took on great powers when his alter ego, Billy Batson, yelled “Shazam,” and the 1966 version of Captain Marvel from M.F. Enterprises whose super power was that his body would fall to pieces when he yelled “Split.”
It takes a lot of comic book reading to become aware of these under-appreciated superheroes. At one time, Morris owned more than 15,000 comic books, but he cut that down to about 200 books that have special meaning to him.
His collection may have gotten smaller, but his knowledge continues to grow.
Some of the more recent regrettable superheroes may have slipped past Morris. He doesn’t read a lot of the modern titles because he didn’t like the change to the major characters made by the publishers. But he has been happy that both the Marvel and DC Comics worlds have grown to be more inclusive.
There was a time when all of the comic book heroes were white males. Now they come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ethnicity and sex. Being diverse doesn’t mean they are all good. Today’s comic book heroes could one day join the cast of regrettable ones he spotlights in his book.
There’s no set rules about what makes a comic book superhero worthy of being regrettable. In the case of DC Comics’ Sonik, the ’80s superhero got all his power from a super-powered Walkman. Evolving technology was his biggest nemesis.
Morris does have a soft spot when it comes to some of the heroes. Although he talks about the ups and downs of Wonder Woman on a weekly basis in his blog, the Amazon didn’t make his book despite the period where she gave up her powers and was more about fashion than fighting crime.
“I have looked at all the different stuff that didn’t work with Wonder Woman, from the death of her creator to now. She had great periods in the 1940s and 1980s’ mostly it has been difficult for people to decided what to do with her,” Morris says.
Here are a few of the regrettable superheroes that did make into his book:
- The Bouncer (1944): The secret identity of the mythological figure is a statue.
- Doctor Vampire (1944): He calls himself Doctor Vampire, but he actually fights vampires. Lasted one issue.
- Nature Boy (1956): His powers to master wind, rain and fire came from mythological gods.
- Gunmaster (1960): The Wild West hero has no special powers but lots and lots of guns.
- Pow-Girl (1967): The wife of the superhero known as the Web became a crime fighter to keep an eye on her husband.
- Man-Wolf (1973): An astronaut becomes a galaxy-traveling werewolf.
- Prez (1973): A teenager is elected President of the United States and proceeds to save the world.
- AAU Shuperstar (1977): The foremost footwear-based superhero.
There are 100 superheroes featured in the book but the author has enough left over to do multiple sequels. He originally put together a list of 1,000 potential subjects.
“And that doesn’t include looks at sidekicks or villains,” he says.
‘The League of Regrettable Superheroes’
- Quirk Books, $24.95 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound and Apple. Details: http://www.quirkbooks.com/book/league-regrettable-superheroes