Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

Friday, December 25, 2020

X-Men Impostors

Before Blob joined numerous supervillains in pretending to be Defenders, he pulled off a similar stunt in X-Men #20 (reprinted in #71). During that earlier crime spree, Blob and fellow evil mutant Unus disguised themselves in costumes matching those of the original X-Men. The ruse exacerbated an undercurrent that followed the X-Men and would carry through to the New Defenders. To much of the general public, all mutants were a menace, with little distinction made between mutant heroes and mutant villains. X-Men #20 also provided an important piece of background about Professor X, telling how he had lost the use of his legs when facing an evil extraterrestrial called Lucifer.

As a sign of their achievements, the original X-Men began wearing individualized costumes in #39. The original costume style returned as a student uniform when Kitty Pryde joined the X-Men in #139; the New Mutants would would wear a variation of this original uniform as well.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Introducing Interloper

A series of cameo appearances beginning in New Defenders #147 culminated in #152, when the mysterious Interloper joined the team in a climactic battle against the Dragon of the Moon. Interloper had faced the wicked creature one thousand years earlier and had been living in seclusion ever since.

While keeping much of his history a secret, Interloper revealed a recent regret: he had trained Manslaughter in the use of mental powers … without anticipating how dangerous Manslaughter might become. A fear of making such mistakes, or being judged for them, had contributed to Interloper's overarching decision to stay hidden from the outside world.

This panel comes from New Defenders #152, the final issue of the series.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Titan, the Amphibian from Atlantis!

One month before Sub-Mariner regained his memory as the Prince of Atlantis in Fantastic Four #4 (May 1962), a very different Atlantean appeared in Tales of Suspense #28 (April 1962). In that tale, a water-breathing giant named Titan communicated telepathically to the residents of Manhattan. When Titan offered untold wealth to anyone willing to describe humanity's weapons and defenses, an automobile industrialist named John Cartwright jumped at the offer. Upon arriving in Atlantis, however, Cartwright told the giant amphibians that humans possessed weapons powerful enough to destroy the underwater civilization, deterring them from attacking the surface world.

Fantasy Masterpieces #7 (Feb. 1967) and Uncanny Tales from the Grave (Oct. 1975) reprinted this creative tale, titled "Titan, the Amphibian from Atlantis!" Throughout this time period, the science fiction and fantasy titles published by Marvel Comics did not inherently occupy the shared universe of superheroes … making room for these Atlanteans to be vastly different from Sub-Mariner's people. In contrast, a prior take on Atlantis from Amazing Adventures #2 (June 1961) became Aquatica when reprinted in Weird Wonder Tales #22 (May 1977), as the updated version helped establish Dr. Druid as a costumed hero.

As an aside, as compelling as Sub-Mariner could be as a character, his homeworld generally lacked the imagination of Titan's version of Atlantis or the lost city renamed Aquatica.

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Return of Whizzer

Like other members of the Squadron Sinister, the villain Whizzer was a nod to a member of the Justice League of America—specifically Flash (Barry Allen). Unlike the rest of the Squadron Sinister, Whizzer also had a similarly named counterpart at Timely Comics (a predecessor to Marvel Comics).

Robert Frank, the original Whizzer, first appeared in USA Comics #1 (Aug. 1941). The character acquired superhuman speed and vitality from a transfusion of mongoose blood designed to save his life following a venomous snake bite. As a costumed hero, Whizzer soon became a member of the All Winners Squad, a group that also included Miss America, Sub-Mariner, Captain America (with sidekick Bucky), and the original Human Torch (with sidekick Toro).

Three decades later, Giant-Size Avengers #1 (Aug. 1974) brought Whizzer out of retirement, getting more mileage out of the character. Without the benefit of half-Atlantean physiology, or years spent in suspended animation, Whizzer had aged normally and found himself past his physical prime. For a time, indirect evidence led Whizzer to incorrectly believe that he and Miss America (now deceased) were the true parents of the mutant twins Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver.

Whizzer's own history become more complex when retroactive continuity effectively split the All Winners Squad into two new teams set during World War II. Invaders #1 (Aug. 1975) sent Sub-Mariner, Captain America, and Human Torch to battle the Axis powers in Europe. Marvel Premiere #29 (April 1976), on the other hand, placed Whizzer and Miss America, along with Red Raven and a handful of other costumed crimefighters of that era, in a homefront team called the Liberty Legion.

Perhaps to avoid confusion with the increasing prominence of the original Whizzer, the villainous Whizzer from the Squadron Sinister later changed his handle to Speed Demon. It is worth noting that, over at DC Comics, the original Flash (Jay Garrick) first appeared in Flash Comics #1 (Jan. 1940).

This image of Whizzer comes from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Featuring Ant-Man

Immediately after Marvel Feature #1-3 introduced the dynamic Defenders as a superhero team, Marvel Feature #4-10 re-introduced Hank Pym as the astonishing Ant-Man. Finding himself trapped at a shrunken height, without the gadgetry he previously used as Yellowjacket, this revamped version of Ant-Man wore a new costume and armed himself with a proportionally small sword. The seven-part story arc brought back old foes Egghead and Whirlwind, introduced new villains, and pitted the swashbuckling hero against natural threats reminiscent of the 1957 film The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Henry Pym's wife, Janet (a.k.a. Wasp), lost much of her edge during these new adventures of Ant-Man, appearing largely as a romantic interest and occasional sidekick. As founding members of the Avengers, however, both characters had years of adventuring experience by this point and might very well have shared equal billing on the title.

Pym's lab assistant, Bill Foster, made a cameo appearance in Marvel Feature #9, investigating the disappearance of the super-couple and foreshadowing his eventual transformation into Black Goliath.

Henry Pym resumed his Yellowjacket identity in Giant-Size Defenders #4. Wasp featured prominently during her guest appearances in Defenders #76-77.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Lord of the Wings

Defenders #6 (Vol. 2) revived the costumed adventurer known as Red Raven. Orphaned as an infant and raised on a floating island of bird-people, the character returned to human society as an adult. Equipped with a pair of artificial wings, Red Raven made his crimefighting debut in 1940. Like many Golden Age heroes, however, Red Raven fell into obscurity after World War II.

When the Defenders encountered the floating island decades later, Red Raven asserted the isolationist stance that he and the bird-people wanted nothing to do with surface-dwellers. Parallels between Red Raven's abrasive disposition and that of Sub-Mariner did not escape the Defenders.

Red Raven made his first comeback in X-Men #44, when the winged mutant known as Angel accidentally discovered the hidden civilization of bird-people. The territorial Red Raven violently defended his adopted homeworld from the intruder. Gaining the upper hand in combat, Angel made an unusual remark, saying that he now knew he could lick Red Raven's weight in hobbits.

There certainly is a possibility that Red Raven could have read The Hobbit. Published in 1937, the novel was available during his time living among humans. The bigger mystery, however, is whether or not Angel actually read The Hobbit either as a student at Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters or on his own. Of all the creatures described in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, hobbits were among the least formidable. A human-sized hobbit, or the number of hobbits equal in mass an adult human, would hardly pose a threat to the average superhero—even a hero whose only power was flight.

As far as temperament, it would be a stretch to liken the headstrong Red Raven to that of a homebodied hobbit. All things considered, Angel's attempt at trash talk didn't land.

This image of Red Raven and Angel comes from X-Men #44 (May 1968).

Friday, December 4, 2020

Devil-Slayer and the Flying Dutchman

Strange Tales #98 included a ghost story about the crew of The Flying Dutchman, a legendary ship from seafaring lore. The title of the story was "They Vanished Forever!"

When superheroes later encountered the haunted ship, the term Flying Dutchman also referred to the vessel's netherwordly captain. In league with the entity Mephisto, the Flying Dutchman approached Devil-Slayer in Marvel Comics Presents #46, offering earthly pleasures aboard the supernatural ship in exchange for the hero's soul. Devil-Slayer refused the offer yet the demonic adversary persisted.

Flying Dutchman: Your soul is already lost! All that remains undecided is which underworld lord will possess it!

After trails and tribulations, Devil-Slayer discovered that holy water could weaken the Flying Dutchman and keep him at bay (#49).

This rendition of The Flying Dutchman appeared in Strange Tales #98 (July 1962).