With C-listers like Ant-Man and Aquaman starring in their own movies, it feels like every superhero, no matter how obscure, is headed for wide-ranging fame. But nothing could be further from the truth: There are hundreds of weird, dumb, preposterous, and just plain awful superheroes who have appeared in print before fading into the cultural abyss, an abyss from which they’ve been rescued by comics scholar Jon Morris in his wonderful new book The League of Regrettable Superheroes. This book is the blooper reel of superhero comics.
Despite the title, you can tell Morris loves all these characters, and who wouldn’t? Flops or not, they are colorful and amusing pieces of comics history. Still, no matter how bloated the membership of the Avengers gets, it will never include the following folks.
1. Doll Man
Ant-Man is a powerhouse compared to Golden Age hero Doll Man, who couldn’t control ants or do anything except shrink to the size of a doll. The “World’s Mightiest Mite” was more adorable than invincible, especially when riding his Wonder Dog Elmo to the rescue.
2. The Eye
With a name like The Eye, you’d expect a Cyclops-type hero—or perhaps someone with a particularly good eye for crime. Nope. This hero who debuted in 1939 was literally a big, floating eyeball who fought crime with supernatural powers.
3. Doctor Hormone
No, Doc Hormone is not the greatest enemy (or ally) of the Teen Titans. Rather, Dr. Hormone (his actual name) was a scientist who fought evil and played god by turning babies into adults, old people into young people, and regular folks into animal-human hybrids via hormonology. Holy hormonal hijinks, Batman!
4. Fatman the Human Flying Saucer
After plump Van Crawford stumbles upon a crashed flying saucer that was actually a shape-shifting alien, he gained the same powers, becoming unquestionably the greatest plus-size male superhero who can change into a flying saucer. You’re not going to believe this, but Fatman’s publisher Lightning Comics couldn’t stay in business for more than a few months.
One of the subplots of Morris’ book is that even legendary comics creators like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko created some stinkers. The guys who started it all—Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster—created Funnyman, a comedic crimefighter who debuted in 1948 and promptly went nowhere. Or perhaps he retreated back to his “Funny Manor,” a poor substitute for the Batcave or Fortress of Solitude.
6. The Ferret
With its foul stench and penchant for theft, the ferret would seem to be a better role model for villains, but this yellow-caped crusader fought mobsters and other crooks in his brief 1942 appearance. The Ferret was revived in the 1990s as a hero typical of that era: grim and violent to the point of absurdity. He also had claws that were a transparent rip-off of Wolverine.
7. Squirrel Girl
This bushy-tailed heroine—who once took down Dr. Doom in a crushing blow to anyone who takes their comics a little too seriously—is a great example of how any character can thrive with the right creators. This humorous mutant has been used sporadically since her 1992 debut, but she recently landed her own series, which has been a breath of fresh air in the all-too-often self-serious world of comics.
8. U.S. 1
Many of the regrettable heroes collected by Morris are from the Golden and Silver Ages of comics, a faraway time encompassing 1938-1969. But some are more recent, and I felt the sting of shame when I realized one of these heroes was in my own collection: U.S. 1, a colossally stupid trucker/hero based on an aborted toy line. Why did young me need this comic? Maybe I identified with Ulysses Solomon Archer and his metal skull that picked up C.B. and allowed him to control his rig telepathically. Or maybe I was just an idiot.