Book Review: The League of Regrettable Superheroes by Jon Morris
There have been thousands of superheroes created for comic books since their origins in the 1930s. Some of them have gone on to lasting success like Superman, Spider-Man or Batman. Others have had solid B-list careers, staying in the minds of fandom, if not the general public. And then there are these folks.
This is a collection of oddball characters, many very obscure, that represent the wide breadth of superhero types that have appeared over the years. Like Fantomah, possibly the first ever female superhero. She was a fur-clad jungle queen whose “white goddess” shtick was literal, turning into a skull-faced nigh-omnipotent punisher of evil whenever she felt like it. Or NFL Superpro, an American football-themed hero foisted on the Marvel Universe to raise awareness of the sport.
Not all of the covered material is so obscure. Doll Man (can shrink to six inches tall) had a very respectable run in the Golden Age, and reappears periodically. And Squirrel Girl, despite her creation for a throwaway filler story and oddball nature (she can talk to squirrels, and has their powers) has become a fan favorite, and is enjoying a very successful solo series right now.
Mr. Morris covers the characters’ origins (if known), most interesting stories and publishing history. He also lists little factoids for them, some true, others just humorous. As with Doctor Hormone (master of biochemistry applied to mad science): “Adherence to basic medical ethics: iffy.”
It’s pointed out that none of these are really bad characters as such–they appeared at publishers rapidly going out of business, or their gimmicks are dated, or in the case of Rom, Spaceknight the legal rights are tied up, making him unusable in his classic form. But with a good creative team and the right story, any of them could be rescued from obscurity. (Who thought we’d see a movie (especially a good movie) about the Scott Lang Ant-Man in our lifetimes?)
The characters are arranged alphabetically by the era of comics they appeared in (with footnotes reminding us that the dates of these eras are in dispute.) There’s lots of four-color art, ranging from the excellent to the much less good. If there is one weakness, it’s that the volume is very US-centric. Only Nelvana of the Northern Lights (half-goddess of the Inuit) made it in from Canadian comics, and there’s a overview of Captain Marvel (the original’s) overseas clones, all created by one British fellow, to cover the rest of the world.
This would make an excellent holiday or birthday gift for a comic book fan with a sense of humor. Other folks might want to look at it via the library just to get an idea of the truly amazing variety of superheroes comics have to offer.