Monday, May 24, 2021

The League of Regrettable Superheroes by Jon Morris

Not regrettable enough
Jon Morris writes a blog entitled
Gone & Forgotten, where he showcases an assortment of oddities and absurdities that he has dredged up from the history of comic books. In his 2015 book, The League of Regrettable Superheroes, he assembles a motley crew of crime fighters who range from the silly to the shameful to the mystifying. The result is an amusing and informative tour through roughly 75 years of comics history, one goofy hero at a time.

Each selected character gets a page of text, about the length of a blog post, facing a full-color reproduction of a cover or page from his or her adventures. Every seventh hero or so gets an additional two pages of art. The book is divided into three historical time periods, within which the misfit do-gooders are paraded in alphabetical order. A surprising number of recognizable creators from Marvel and DC are featured along with many lesser-knowns working for the likes of Charlton, Dell, or tiny comics companies you’ve never heard of. This book is sure to inspire some grins in those who love comics, but belly laughs or shocking surprises are few and far between. Given the fact that the sole purpose of the book is to collect characters that are “regrettable,” it’s surprising how inoffensive and mundane a lot of these heroes are.

About half of the book is drawn from the Golden Age of Comics, the 1940s and early 1950s. The problem with focusing so much on that era is that the very style of storytelling itself had a rather dopey dimension to it. Even mainstream heroes like Captain America, Superman, and the Spirit had ridiculous elements to their earliest incarnations, so when Morris singles out a crimefighter for his silly costume, unusual powers, or the fact that he or she happens to be dead, it just feels like par for the course for this time period.

Things pick up a little in the sections on the Silver Age (mid-’50s through the ‘60s) and Modern Age (1970 to the present). The overall style of storytelling during these periods is more palatable to today’s readers, so when a writer and/or artist created something schlocky the result sticks out like a sore thumb. The 1980s and ‘90s were particularly kitschy, given all the fad-based superheroes that arose during that time (such as Skateman, a roller skating hero; U.S. 1, a truck-driving hero; or Sonik, a hero with sound powers who wields a Walkman), as well as the ultraviolent psychos (Gunfire, the Ferret, Ravage 2099) created to capitalize on the success of action movies and Wolverine. Some characters, like Squirrel Girl and Thunderbunny, seem deliberately intended to be silly, and therefore can hardly be considered embarrassments.

Many of Morris’s synopses are written not so much as roastings but as tributes, celebrating the heroes rather than lampooning them. It seems like some more offensive offenders could have been found. Where are Matter Eater Lad, Arm Fall Off Boy, Color Kid, Starfox, Jack of Hearts, Dazzler’s disco origins, or just about any character designed by Rob Liefeld? (Image Comics gets off scot-free.) To be sure, there are quite a few creations here that certainly deserve to be highlighted as regrettable: Captain Marvel (neither of the two you’re thinking of), Speed Centaur, Fatman the Human Flying Saucer, Adam X the X-Treme. For the most part, however, Morris’s selections get a little monotonous, and the collection is mildly tasty but uninspired, like a basket of low-hanging fruit.

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