Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Roads to Regrettability : Homegrown International Heroes
The League of Regrettable Heroes – soon to be published by Quirk Books and written by yours truly – features write-ups on 100 of comicdom’s weirdest, most unfortunate, most misunderstood and flat-out strangest  superheroes. The book debuts June 2, 2015, so in the meantime let’s discuss the many paths a character can take on the road to regrettability. 

America loves an anti-hero – up to a point. Superheroes who skirted the edge, like Wolverine or the Punisher, have proven more than capable of capturing the comic-reading public’s attention, but there’s almost a built-in timer for heroes whose penchant for fatality and cruelty exceed that of their foes. Eventually, a character like the Punisher, who may have begun his career as an edgy new take on the superhero genre better reflecting the sifting morality of the modern day, eventually becomes a problem that has to be addressed.

Here's THIS terrifying old murderer.
After all, what’s the distinction between a hero who threatens, maims, tortures and kills his enemies, his enemies’ henchpersons, their contacts, their messengers, their backers and their allies, and a bad guy? Besides, what happens when you have a hero who kills his villains? Well, realistically, you run out of villains. Some fun.

Of course, the hero who kills isn’t native to the modern day. Possibly the most famous straight-up murderer in the ranks of herodom was always The Shadow, a pulp hero who leapt into battle with both guns blazing. His later entries into comics kept the Shadow’s madcap thrill for high body counts, but his brief run as a character published by – of all things – Archie Comics put a different twist on the character. Now a spy fighting America’s enemies with clever gadgets, the Shadow even lost his unnerving laugh along with his daisy-pushing penchant.

A few homicidal heroes who didn’t enjoy such long careers, though, include:

The short-lived and short-statured Golden Age hero The Black Dwarf (later rechristened The Blue Monk) not only planted his foes six feet under, he did it gruesomely and gleefully. Backed by a squad of crooks-turned-crimefighters, the Dwarf made his point by masquerading as a crimelord and then dispatching his supposed rivals with everything from a hangman’s noose to a sharp stiletto (and, of course, faithful ol’ lead). Even more off-putting may have been Mother Hubbard, a genuine witch who fought the typical Nazi baddies of the day, but also supernatural menaces and weirdos whose forays into crime involved – and no joke here – stealing children’s eyes and eating babies. Gruesome goes two ways, I guess.

The "H" in "SHAZAM" stands for "Huckin' guys off
of the roof of a parking garage."
The Conqueror, a patriotic super-hero from the 1940s, was frequently portrayed choking the life out of Nazi soldiers with his bare hands, assuming he wasn’t tearing into them with machine gun fire. This was a brand of fatality which wasn’t uncommon back in the Forties, and for the Conqueror it was a distraction on his main mission: to kill Hitler at any costs!

Alternatively, some heroes have walked away from the blood on their hands. Possibly the best example of a hero who kills and then gives it up is Captain Marvel, famously the most kid-friendly long-running superhero of all time (if you ignore all the racism in those old comics and, oh boy, was there a lot to ignore). When his adventures were translated to film, Cap took no guff from baddies of any stripe. Despite having powers which made him the world’s mightiest mortal, he was pretty happy to mow down a rampaging group  of desert nomads with a machine gun and, later on, fling a gangster off a roof. Holy Moley indeed!


BillyWitchDoctor said...

if you ignore all the racism in those old comics and, oh boy, was there a lot to ignore

You ain't kiddin'. Only a few months ago, Seanbaby wrote an article for Cracked that exposed me to Billy Batson's 'valet' Steamboat for the very first time. Even though I was already familiar with Timely Comics' Whitewash and 'Slow-Motion' Jones and all the other horrible stereotypes of the "Golden" Age (not to mention Billy's own use of blackface as a disguise), that was a huge, painful kick in the beanbag to me. It's good to have that one 1940s Justice Society story and that Batman PSA which openly celebrate diversity, just so I can whimper #notallgoldenagecomicbooks, y'know?

*glances through comments in political forums comparing the President of the United States and his wife and children to animals*

...And we've come such a long, long way since then, haven't we? *sigh*

Calamity Jon said...

Y'know, you're making me think I oughtta write up something for the original Captain Marvel vs the Monster Society of Evil arc, which is a tremendous accomplishment, a fun adventure and also the single most broadly racist comic story I'd ever read. Reading my copy was the first time I encountered someone being racist about the Scottish ...

neofishboy said...

This may have been mine:

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