First off, let’s get something straight. The one hundred comic characters listed in The League Of Regrettable Superheroes are far from regrettable. In fact, many of them are downright badass! Sure, many of them are kooky but they reflect the life and times of their era. Things were far less convoluted back then; people were not as hyper-aware as they are now. Not that I think living in the first half of the twentieth century was a breeze, far from it. They definitely had their own challenges, but life was a little slower without the whole world at your fingertips via the internet. But we are here to talk about the book, not life without wi-fi.
The best part about this book is the humorous presentation. We get a bit of story but it’s annotated with each character’s creator(s), the issue in which they were first given life, and a silly comment or quip to complete the trifecta of fun. There are quite a few creations that are obviously heavily “influenced” by some characters you already know. I’m also curious exactly how many different Captain Marvels have existed, the number must be astronomical. But while some of their superpowers may seem goofy, keep in mind that these were created for youngsters and that the snarky teens of today bear little to no resemblance to the young adults of yesteryear. The book is broken into three parts: golden age, silver age, and modern age comics. Allow me to touch on each briefly.
The Golden Age section is chock full of oddball names and powers that probably have some hidden meaning. Don’t ask me. I did say hidden, didn’t I? Like, I have no idea why bouncing would be a superpower but hey, what do I know? And um, Speed Centaur? Yeah, the name says it all. But amid these lackluster heroes exists a core of awesomeness. Take Captain Tootsie, for instance. As the mascot for Tootsie Rolls he could have been just a commercialized hero but instead was actually used in a variety of other comics for years, a virtual multitasking crime fighter! The heroine Fantomah is conceivably the first female superhero, she existed more than a year before Wonder Woman! And while she has a couple of different (and conflicting) storylines, Fantomah definitely set the tone for an independent heroine…no small feat in those days. The last one I must mention is from the creators of Superman; this wise guy went by the name of Funnyman, and was loaded with crime busting (and hilarious) gadgets. There were many, many others that had interesting back stories and adventures. Make sure you look into Madam Fatal (transvestite hero), Kid Eternity (resurrected child, very Shazam-y), and Mother Hubbard (creepy as hell). They all stood out above the rest during my reading.
And now for the Silver Age comics, possibly my favorite of the three. The world comics was definitely finding its way into the mainstream by this time. A certain Dynamic Duo and their campy show probably helped a bit with that, as our heroic tome mentions. These were the comics that I first remember, having been given a box full of them by some distant relative (how sad that I remember the gift but not the giver). But mine were the more popular ones while these are…well, let’s just say they never found their niche. Possibly the best example of this is actually from DC Comics. The Legion of Super-Pets was a terrible attempt to bring animals into the Superman/Supergirl universe (oddly enough, we once had a long discussion at my bookstore regarding Comet the Super-Horse). Miracles Inc. is another disappointment, mainly because there was no reason for their team to have banded together! There are several more that are obviously closely tied to more recognizable figures. Bee-Man, The Blackhawks, and several more that appear to be Johnny Quest and Tom Swift/Tom Swift, Jr. clones. That having been said, there are many more who might have stood the test of time. Congorilla (you may recognize the name), Dracula (a descendant of the original but also with similar abilities and a horrible costume), and the aptly named Jigsaw (I have to find this comic) are all unique or interesting enough to probably get a fair shake today. Sadly, sometimes these things are not meant to be.
As we look into the Modern Age of comics, I find myself distressed that many of these were deemed “regrettable” for some reason. I present to you Rom, Spaceknight as my primary objection. Sure he was different from the toy upon which he was based, but the comic was quite well received by nine-year-old Gary. I still have my Rom comics, thank you very much! And I would like to lodge a formal complaint for his inclusion, so who do I email? Additionally, I remember enjoying a few good laughs with Squirrel Girl. I know I cannot be alone in that. Stand up and be counted! Now, Thunderbunny and Skateman are two that I can definitely do without. The same goes for The Ferret, Captain Ultra, and most of the disposable creations from DC and Marvel during the nineties. So many bad ideas that it’s surprising readers didn’t mutiny. Luckily, things have turned around and we are able to look back on it and laugh.
I must thank Jon Morris for his diligent work in creating this book. He’s been a connoisseur of horrid comics and cartoons for years and has never been shy about sharing them in his long-lived blog. Of course, as a cartoonist himself, he’s got an educated idea of what goes into making a good comic rather than a regrettable one. I’m still unforgiving on the Rom issue, though. I took that personally. But seriously, he’s done a wonderful job assembling this tome. I wish I had access to these originals, though. Campy or not, this is true history of the medium. It’s a massive body of work and I envy anyone who is able to spend their time embracing it. But thanks to Jon, you can have a little piece of it right here. The League Of Regrettable Superheroes gives you a little bit of everything, including a window into the past. How many books do that? You can pick this up at finer bookstores the world over or online at Amazon. I hope you get the chance to get a copy. I’ll treasure mine for years to come.
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