Dial H for Half-Assed
Many years ago, when ‘blogs’ were a thing, I wrote a series called the Geek Index, in which I examined the DC Who’s Who and Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe series in order to illustrate that comic books were written for mental defectives. It did not require close examination.
Nowadays, geeks — once a pejorative term! — have taken over the culture, and pointing out that they were created for halfwits is considered bad form. (And believe me, I say this as a person who has spent about 75% of his waking life utterly devoted to superheroes. I say that it is an art form for emotionally arrested dullards with absolutely no malice.) In the last week, I have had two separate conversations with fellow comics fans on the belief, now widely held, that the bigwigs at these two companies have given up on creating memorable, interesting characters, and, unlike in the glittering past, no longer take a chance on original creations, instead being happy to coast on their laurels and churn out endless variations on already-successful formulations.
Well, kids, I have bad news for you. As someone who actually started reading comics in the 1970s, and who first gave up on them (in the way a heroin addict might temporarily ‘give up on’ the needle) in the 1990s, it is my sad duty to inform you that the good old days weren’t always good. It’s not that this idea is wrong — the Big Two really did crank out more original characters back then. It’s just that the results were usually spectacularly bad. They had a heyday from the ’40s to the ’60s, and after that, they started running on fumes. There were a bunch of original works after that; but, as I will illustrate with the following examples from the old Geek Index, there’s a very good reason we don’t remember them today like we do Spider-Man and the Avengers. It’s because they were terrible. Behold:
BLACK BROTHER. Aside from the insulting name, the story of Black Brother is a real downer: he was a governor in a small African nation who fought for indigenous people, women’s rights and nationalizing the oil industry, so his own government brought him down by framing him and driving him out of the country. So he left in disgrace, and, having had no impact whatsoever on the Marvel universe, never appeared again! He was basically the comic book version of Thomas Sankara.
BLACK LAMA. The Black Lama is, without question, the kind of character only Marvel could have created in the ’70s. He was an alternate-universe version of Gerald Ford who was second-in-command of a monarchy based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In order to defeat his rival, who was aided by an alternate-universe version of Edward Teller (!), he decided to meditate on cosmic balance, which, naturally, led him to send a gang of super-powered jackoffs to beat up on Iron Man.
COBALT MAN. Cobalt Man has the hilariously hapless distinction of nearly being killed in not one, not two, but three nuclear explosions. To cap it all off, there’s this hilarious sentence in his “Where Are They Now?” section: “Cobalt-Man crusaded against nuclear power, appearing on CNN, but the Hulk dropped a car on him and defeated him.” HA HA! Take that, hippie!
THE COMMITTEE. The Committee, the nerds who wrote this thing tell me, were an “organization of financiers ostensibly dedicated to reviving the U.S. economy by any means, however illegal or bizarre”. In the 1980s, they went on to become the Halliburton Corporation, but back then, they had an anonymous leader who went by the clever name of Anonymous Leader. He employed a staff of winners with similarly slick monikers, including Mister Orange, Colleague, Shaved Head, and Turtle Neck, and, following the economic principles of Milton Friedman, he attempted to use werewolf blood to revive his fortunes. This gang of nitwits appeared in Werewolf By Night (companion book to Werewolf By Day and Werewolf On Weekends, Holidays and Occasional Sick Day Coverage. There’s a hilarious panel where the straitlaced businessmen of the Committee are being introduced to their new co-worker, Sidney Sarnak, who has the ability to control an Army of Fear with his sonic whistle, and inexplicably, they are shocked at the idea! Has this guy even read Robert’s Rules of Order?
THE CONSPIRACY. Another soporific gaggle of dingalings trying to take over the world, only these guys wore funny costumes and dabbled in magic instead of wearing cheap suits and dabbling in economics. Aside from the core group, which included not only an evil dolphin sorcerer and a sinister cardiologist, but a stripper (excuse me, “ecdysiast”, as the bottom-shelf highbrow narration has it) who used a mystical blood-gem instead to enthrall her audience instead of tits, the Conspiracy employed Killer Shrike, a failed version of Batman; Sharzan, a failed version of Shazam; Ulluxy’l, a failed version of Cthulhu; and Goram, a failed version of Godzilla. The book in which they appeared was Rampaging Hulk, itself a failed version of a good comic.
THE CORPORATION. The third of our boring trilogy of sinister aggregations of ill-meaning shitheads is the Corporation, which, also like Halliburton, was a “body of businessmen and politicians who performed numerous acts of terrorism and espionage”. Fighting such go-nowheres as Machine Man, Shang-Chi, and the White Tiger, the Corporation featured luminaries like Filippo Ayala, Lyle Dekker, Curtiss Jackson, and Sen. Eugene Kligger Stivak, thus proving the old adage that men with two consecutive identical consonants in their names cannot be trusted.
THE DEADLY DOZEN. You know, if you’re going to rip off both Kelly’s Heroes AND The Dirty Dozen, couldn’t you at least try to be a bit more subtle than calling your version “The Deadly Dozen” and giving them a commanding officer named Kelly? The fact that Marvel didn’t get sued behind this one only shows you how little anyone cared about comics back then.
DEMON-FIRE. Another group of world-beaters Marvel obviously cared about so much that they didn’t bother to keep any of the original art. This was a gang of demons who hung around San Francisco vainly searching for a virgin they could sacrifice, instead of moving to, say, Oklahoma City, where their chances would be better. One of them was named Katabolik, but it doesn’t say if he had a degradative metabolism that released energy in order to facilitate the internal breakdown of proteins and lipids.
DEVIL’S HEART. See, this Sioux necromancer, he killed a bunch of people, and got himself transformed into a gigantic, thirty-foot-tall human heart under a lake. Hey, we’ve all been there, right? Anyway, he spends a couple centuries getting farmers to off each other, and then along comes Dracula, and mmmmm, dinnertime!
THE DRAGON CIRCLE. In contrast to most super-teams of the era, these guys — another group of pseudo-mystical doofuses — operated out of the Water Crest Country Club in Georgia, so it’s no surprise that they were actually an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan. What is mildly surprising is that they appeared in Jungle Action, and what is exceptionally surprising, and not explained in the entry, is the fact that one of their key operatives, the flatulently-named Wind Eagle, was a black man.
TO BE CONTINUED!