Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Loser superheroes are a study of the wretched id of the comics world

Illustration for article titled Loser superheroes are a study of the wretched id of the comics world
Illustration for article titled Loser superheroes are a study of the wretched id of the comics world
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Illustration for article titled Loser superheroes are a study of the wretched id of the comics world

In order to fully understand just how useless the Golden Age Atom was, simply encounter him in the context of his adventures with the Justice Society Of America. The original Atom (created by Ben Flinton and Bill O’Connor) was Al Pratt, a costumed adventurer with no superpowers save for the fact that he worked out a lot, and was short. (This is important, because most of his adventures usually feature him being bullied for his height.) Imagine: It’s 1940, you’re a character in All-Star Comics #4 (DC), and you’re sitting at the table with the Flash, Green Lantern, Doctor Fate, and the Spectre—the literal vengeance of the Lord God Almighty—and it’s time for everyone to split up for a mission, hunting down Fifth Columnists. All the heroes with awesome powers do a great job of smashing the Nazis. The Atom—again, a short dude who punches guys—is sent to infiltrate a Brownshirt group on a local college campus. He fails and must be rescued. This happened a lot. [Tim O’Neil]

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Illustration for article titled Loser superheroes are a study of the wretched id of the comics world

Aquaman doesn’t need help looking stupid. Despite an actually pretty impressive list of abilities and titles, he’s the member of the Justice League most likely to get a “Kick Me” sign taped on his back. The six issues collected in Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis, Vol. 1: Once And Future (DC) certainly didn’t help matters. Collecting Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #40 through #45, this first arc was written by Kurt Busiek with art by Jackson Guice. Maybe it’s the fact that in the mid-2000s most of the comic-book industry was at least a little lost, but this is one of the most incomprehensibly muddled versions of an already unjustly maligned character. Arthur Curry is no longer Aquaman… but his cousin, Arthur Joseph Curry—the result of experimental treatments after his profoundly premature birth—has taken on the hero’s mantle, without the benefit of also being King Of Atlantis. The original Arthur is now a tentacle-bearded soothsayer and everyone speaks like they’re in a Greek tragedy that’s been translated by a melodramatic preteen Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast. There’s a serious danger in comic books that take themselves too seriously; Aquaman in particular is not the kind of title that can accommodate pretentiousness masquerading as wannabe high fantasy. The art is a little stylized and suits the mood of the book, but the whole thing would rather be Tolkien than Norris and Weisinger. The only saving grace is King Shark, who unfortunately not even once identifies himself as a shark. [Caitlin Rosberg]


Illustration for article titled Loser superheroes are a study of the wretched id of the comics world
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For the first time in decades, Captain Canuck is getting his own comic with a brand new story. Both written and drawn by Kalman Andrasofszky, who’s worked on several X-titles for Marvel, Captain Canuck #2 (Chapterhouse Comics) is a fun, fast-paced book with distinct characters that aren’t quite like any other team in comics. No matter how expertly Andrasofszky executes the story—and he really does—there’s the lingering sense that this is an attempt to tell a Captain America story that never was, a feeling only magnified by the fact that Canuck shares a last name with the actor who plays the MCU’s Captain America. The main story and the short in the back, written by Sons Of Anarchy’s Ed Brisson with stellar art by Marcus To, are both far more political than Captain America has been for a long time, confronting environmental disasters and the dangers of unchecked capitalism. It’s an excellent comic with smart writing and interesting characters, but the struggle to get out from the shadow of the well-known shield is going to be a mighty one, even if, as Andrasofszky says, the “comic-book industry is riddled with secret Canadians.” [Caitlin Rosberg]


Illustration for article titled Loser superheroes are a study of the wretched id of the comics world
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Of all the superheroes to ever be created as advertising gimmicks for terrible junk food, the most unfortunate of them all has to be Combo-Man (Marvel). In case you’ve blocked the memories from your mind, Combos are crunchy snacks that combine two flavors (such a pretzels and cheese) into a generally unpalatable hybrid. They taste like dog food. Anyway, Combo-Man’s powers were a combination (get it?) of 14 of Marvel’s most famous super-characters. Combo-Man was a kid named Rick Wilder who just happened to get caught in some sort of mad science thing that gave him powers before having to fight AIM and the Super-Adaptoid. It’s amazing they put even that minimum of effort into a one-issue promotional comic that must have seemed to its creators, even by the low standards of Marvel in the mid-’90s, just one step away from falling headfirst into the fiery abyss of hell itself. Never has a #1 on a cover seemed more like a threat. [Tim O’Neil]


Illustration for article titled Loser superheroes are a study of the wretched id of the comics world
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There’s a long history of forgotten characters in superhero comics, and those remnants of the past are at the heart of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s Doctor 13: Architecture And Mortality (DC), originally serialized as a backup story in Tales Of The Unexpected. These characters have failed the test of time, but they’re not going to be wiped out without a fight, leading to a thrilling, clever, and extremely meta journey through the more obscure corners of the DC Universe. It’s also a surprisingly harsh takedown of DC Comics at the time, turning the four head writers of the weekly 52 series into the villainous Architects who are robbing the DCU of its weird, wacky elements. (Ironically, Azzarello would be one of the writers on the weekly The New 52: Futures End series years later.) The best thing about Doctor 13 is that it started a creative relationship between Azzarello and Chiang, who would re-team for a much-lauded run on Wonder Woman, and the chemistry they display in Doctor 13 is just a small taste of what they are capable of together. [Oliver Sava]


Illustration for article titled Loser superheroes are a study of the wretched id of the comics world
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The Great Lakes Avengers were already pegged as a big joke when the debuted in John Byrne’s West Coast Avengers, but Dan Slott leaned even harder on the superhero loser aspect of the team in his 2005 G.L.A. miniseries with artist Paul Pelletier. Team leader Mr. Immortal is very aware that the Great Lake Avengers are the lowest rung of the Avengers franchise, but in G.L.A. #1 (Marvel) he sees the opportunity to step up when the main Avengers team falls apart after the “Avengers Disassembled” event, leaving a crime-fighting void that could be filled by Milwaukee’s heroes. It’s a horrible plan and one of the team dies quickly after they park their Quin-Jetta outside the crime scene, proving that this group is still far from ready for the big leagues. Slott comments on the dreariness of the main Avengers line with the black humor in his script, playing the tragic demise of the G.L.A. for laughs even though it’s actually pretty sad, and that tonal contrast is accentuated by Pelletier’s artwork. He jumps smoothly from the superhero humor to the emotional drama, grounding the G.L.A. as the story highlights their absurdity. [Oliver Sava]


Illustration for article titled Loser superheroes are a study of the wretched id of the comics world
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With Section 8 boasting a brand new title of their own after Convergence, going back to check out their origin story is more than a little tempting. In Hitman #18 (DC), team leader Sixpack reconvenes his team of misfits in an attempt to protect Gotham and Tommy “Hitman” Monaghan from the impending threat of Etrigan the demon and some mafia soldiers. Published in the late ’90s, Hitman has many of the same themes as writer Garth Ennis’ other works, but with the added neon frenzy of Gotham in a time when Superman had a ponytail. It’s tough to dive in when protagonist Monaghan and his crew, including a pissed-off Catwoman, are already halfway through their adventure, but Ennis and artist John McCrea keep things moving quickly and Section 8 is soon gathered once more: Sixpack, along with Friendly Fire, Shakes, Jean De Baton-Baton, The Defenestrator, Bueno Excellente, Flemgem, and the ultimate loser superhero, Dogwelder, who mutely kills stray dogs and then somehow welds them to bad guys’ faces. The only disappointment in this nostalgic hallucination of a book is that Etrigan doesn’t rhyme like a Shakespeare enthusiast after too many Red Bulls. [Caitlin Rosberg]


Illustration for article titled Loser superheroes are a study of the wretched id of the comics world
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The first issue of The Human Fly (Marvel) promised “The Wildest Super-Hero Ever—Because He’s Real!” This was technically true. The Human Fly was a Canadian stuntman named Rick Rojatt who rose to semi-fame in the late 1970s as an Evel Knievel knockoff whose gimmick was that he wore a superhero costume while committing his daredevil feats. His signature stunt was wing-walking across a DC-8 flying over the Mojave Desert, which almost killed him. Marvel being Marvel, it couldn’t wait to put this guy in a comic. Despite the fantastic premise, the book itself barely managed to meet the mediocre expectations of a licensed comic released during the Carter administration. Every issue featured a variation on the same plot: the Human Fly traveled the country doing charity shows, but someone kept stealing the till or trying to kill him, often both at the same time. Cue a fight scene with some element of stunt work, rinse and repeat 19 times. [Tim O’Neil]


Illustration for article titled Loser superheroes are a study of the wretched id of the comics world
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What happens when a slacker with no motivation or ambition gets superpowers? If Lou Martin had his way, the answer would be “nothing at all.” Major Bummer #1 (DC) features the tagline, “The First Inaction Hero,” and it’s the perfect description for a character who would rather read comics and play Nintendo than fight crime or stop an alien invasion. This first issue by writer John Arcudi and artist Doug Mahnke actively steers away from the typical superhero origin story beats, and even though Lou has been mysteriously transformed into a hulking muscleman, he just wants to go about his day the way he normally does. Unfortunately, the world has other plans for him, and Arcudi mines a lot of humor from the way superhero conventions force their way into Lou’s life. The meticulous detail of Mahnke’s artwork gives Lou’s world a texture that makes it feel more real than the rest of the DCU, but he balances that with exaggerated characterizations that bring a cartoonish energy to Lou’s reluctant journey into the superhero realm. [Oliver Sava]


Illustration for article titled Loser superheroes are a study of the wretched id of the comics world
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Wundarr the Aquarian was created by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik in 1973, but he didn’t come into his own (so to speak) for another few years, during Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio’s run on Marvel Two-In-One (Marvel). Wundarr began as a Superman riff on Gerber’s part—the joke being that this time Superman’s parents were wrong and the baby Wundarr was shot into space for nothing. But eventually he entered the orbit of the Thing, which meant frequent appearances as a supporting character in Two-In-One. Issue #58 sees the final step in Wundarr’s evolution, from a misguided and confused space traveler to an invincible paragon of pacifism and nonviolence, the Aquarian. The awful costume, sleezy long hair, and regrettable name—to say nothing of the fact that he was transparently designed to be Marvel’s Super-Jesus—dictated a brief career. The one genuinely interesting thing he’s done in the 40 years of his existence is to have survived a bite from a Marvel Zombie, making him the only character to ever do so. So there’s that. [Tim O’Neil]


Illustration for article titled Loser superheroes are a study of the wretched id of the comics world
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Forbush Man reignited the sun when it stopped burning in 1999. He kicked an asteroid to keep it from hitting the Earth. He’s the greatest hero no one knows about (maybe because he’s dressed like a child with a saucepan on his head), and he wants recognition so badly that he’ll saddle up with the bad guys if it means people will know his name. Nextwave #10 (Marvel) sees the superhero team come face-to-face with the power underneath the kitchenware on Forbush Man’s head, and his “Forbush-Vision” gives writer Warren Ellis and artist Stuart Immonen the opportunity to experiment with storytelling in a way that showcases their outstanding versatility as creators. Immonen cements his place as one of the top talents in superhero comics by cycling through the styles of creators like Paul Pope, Mike Mignola, and John Paul Leon for the various “Forbush-Vision” vignettes, and Ellis adjusts his scripts to fit the very specific mood shifts in Immonen’s art. The creativity on the page makes Forbush Man a cool character by proxy, and even if no one remembers him, he’s at the center of an unforgettable issue. [Oliver Sava]


Illustration for article titled Loser superheroes are a study of the wretched id of the comics world
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In Red Hood/Arsenal #1 (DC), actual human disaster Roy Harper, recently dumped by his amnesiac girlfriend, finds himself attempting somewhat successfully to save some innocent lives. Writer Scott Lobdell understands that Roy is absolutely the kind of idiot who would use hashtags in conversation un-ironically and artist Denis Medri’s take on the former sidekick’s new look is spot on. The hipster haircut looks just greasy enough, the bulky body armor is shaped like fletching in a nod both to his centuries-outdated weapon of choice and it’s total inability to protect him in a world where more than one person has the ability to shoot lasers from their eyes. Roy’s quasi-competance wobbles unsteadily between charming and a little alarming given what he does for a living, which is exactly what the character needs, and that ridiculous trucker hat is firmly seated on his head once more by the end of the issue. The humor is sharp, the pacing is great, the art is stellar. Ten out of 10 and would read again, even without Lian. [Caitlin Rosberg]


Illustration for article titled Loser superheroes are a study of the wretched id of the comics world
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Jack Kirby was the king of comics, a peerless figure in the history of the American mainstream, and one of the most influential graphic artists of the 20th century. But the brilliant mind that gave the world the Fantastic Four, Captain America, and Darkseid sometimes misfired. Even his misses were more memorable than most people’s hits, though, and Goody Rickles ranks very high on the list of his strangest creations. Introduced during the height of his epochal Fourth World saga, in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #139-140 (DC), Goody was the twin brother doppelgänger of famed insult comedian Don Rickles, who just so happened to dress in a superhero costume and cause no end of trouble for Superman and the real Don Rickles. This is a thing that happened, and was sold on American newsstands in 1971. This is also notable for being perhaps the only Superman story ever to be resolved with a fart joke, teased on the cover as “The Greatest Climax Ever Seen in Comics!” Don’t ask, just buy it. [Tim O’Neil]


Illustration for article titled Loser superheroes are a study of the wretched id of the comics world
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When it comes to losing, the celebrity mutant team introduced at the start of Peter Milligan and Michael Allred’s X-Force does it hard and very, very fast. With X-Force #116 (Marvel), the incoming creative team takes the title in a dramatically different direction that uses mutant superheroes to comment on early ’00s pop culture, introducing a brand-new team of odd characters that don’t fit the traditional X-mold. And then most of them are killed off. In one of the great twist endings of superhero comics, all but three members of X-Force are slaughtered during a mission to rescue the members of an ’N Sync-like boy band, introducing an element of danger that will stay with the title until its conclusion. The deaths make an impact because Milligan does such strong work establishing the dysfunctional team dynamic, and Allred’s bold, pop-art-inspired visuals bring loads of style to the page, making everything look good even when the circumstances get very bad. [Oliver Sava]

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