It’s a tough racket, the superhero game. Not only are there a billion would-have-beens that ended up on the drawing room floor, and half-baked ideas that never took shape, but there are also those that actually had a shot, a real chance at making their mark and cementing themselves a place in a competitive comic universe.
These are the potential heroes that had something to give, something powerful to share with the superhero and supervillain communities, a chance to stamp their names in comic history and really make something of themselves… but didn’t. They failed to capture the hearts and imaginations of readers, or to raise even a basic level of interest. Or there were legal issues with the comic book itself. Or they just died. (Mostly, they died.)
These are the wannabes, the one-hit wonders, the flashes in the pan, the unsung characters that ended up getting tossed on the great superhero scrapheap, and here they are today, to be unearthed and rediscovered, if only for our ironic amusement. Here are
15. WONDER MAN
The year is 1939. A mild-mannered reporter is getting nowhere with his grumpy boss, nor with that sassy lady reporter. But one thing he can do is remove his suit to reveal a skintight costume, and fly off to fight crime! He can also deflect bullets, smash through solid walls, outrun a locomotive, and jump over tall buildings with a single leap! He’s none other than… Fred Carson, aka Wonder Man!
You can be forgiven for mistaking Fred Carson for Clark Kent, and it isn’t a coincidence. Six weeks after Superman’s smash debut in Action Comics, Victor Fox (a former DC accountant) shacked up with Will Eisner to create Wonder Man, the Mightiest Man on Earth! DC sued Fox immediately; it helped that they worked in the same building.
Glazier is a beautiful and lonely woman who lives in a glass house by the sea with her dog, Snowstar. She may invite you to visit. You might ask why there are all these life-sized glass statues of people everywhere, and she may tell you that the people she touches with her crystal arms turn instantly into glass, killing them. And then you might ask to use the washroom, and use the opportunity to squeeze though the cat flap.
Bruce Banner washed up on Glazier’s beach one day. She tended him back to health, with the secret intention of turning him into glass. Banner caught on to her plan, though, and in the chaos of the ensuing showdown, Banner hulked out, Glazier accidentally turned Snowstar into glass, the building collapses, Glazier accidentally turns herself into glass, and the whole mess just slips into the sea.
Kurrgo was the unpopular leader of the doomed planet Xanth, just waiting to be struck by an incoming rogue asteroid. With a population of 5 billion and only one tiny evacuation ship, a solution was desperately needed. Luckily, Rex Reed came up with a “reducing gas” which allowed the Fantastic Four to gas the entire population of Xanth, shrink them down, and shove ’em all up in there!
Opportunistic to a fault, the un-shrunken Kurrgo then came up with an inspired evil plan: to withhold the “enlarging gas” from the population, allowing him to rule over them as a titanic, monstrous overlord who is 5 BILLION TIMES bigger than they are!!!
But you know how evil plans go. In a subsequent space battle, Kurrgo’s robot got thrown into a control panel–which at that time in space technology, caused ships to immediately explode–and Kurrgo was killed instantly.
12. MARVEL BOY (Martin Simon Burns)
Mythology students probably know this stuff already, but it’s news for some people that Hercules learned the power of reincarnation from the pharaohs of Egypt, which gave him entry through the gates of Valhalla. Then, if you recall from class, Jupiter (Hercules’s dad, duh) told Hercules that would be reborn again as “Marvel Boy” so that he could fight Hitler.
All that mythology, and in the end, Marvel Boy only got one adventure out of it… Sort of. Marvel Boy’s alter-ego, the meek and timid Martin Simon Burns, disappeared into the comic-stacks of time after his first issue. But another Marvel Boy subsequently appeared–Martin Osker Burns–with a different (and much more entertaining) origin story. This Burns was on a field trip to a museum, when a sarcophagus fell on him and a vial of Hercules’s blood fell out and entered a wound in Martin’s arm.
11. El VEJIGANTE
Reed Richards and Sue Storm jetting off to Puerto Rico to take a much-needed vacation would be a pretty boring comic, so it’s a good thing M.O.D.O.K. showed up with an army of enhanced monkeys. When things start to prove difficult, it sure would help them to have some local Puerto Rican super-support. Enter Miguel, El Vejigante!
As a post-9/11 soldier, Miguel ran from a battle, leaving his entire platoon to die behind him, and descended into a sordid world of drugs and booze. Not superhero material, you say? Turns out that the spirit of Vejigante will only inhabit the body of one who truly seeks redemption. So, as long as you squeak through that criteria, which Miguel sure did, you’ll be hooked up with super-strength, some phase-power just like Kitty Pride’s, and a cool “radar sense“. He’s also bound by his power to be unable to leave Puerto Rico, which is maybe a bit weird.
10. HOLLY-ANN EMBER
An undiscovered mutant, young Holly-Ann Ember knew she had some kind of power, but had no idea how to use it or control it. And what a power it was! Her ability to reshape reality according to her will rivals that of even the Scarlet Witch. When Holly-Ann’s town is cut off from the rest of the world by a mysterious force field, she panics and her power involuntarily activates, manifesting her favorite superheroes–Storm, She-Hulk, Wasp and Tigra–to help with the inevitable super-battle.
Concerned about her powers, though, Holly-Ann does not participate in the ensuing ruckus, and when it’s all over, she decides to live a simple life of humility with her mom. In parting, Storm gave her Charles Xavier’s business card, in case she ever wanted to learn to use them at Charles’s School for Gifted Youngsters… but that was 30 years ago, so if they haven’t heard from Holly-Ann by now, don’t hold your breath.
9. WILLIE WISHER
The Seven Soldiers of Victory, a 1940s superhero team (at the time, second only to the JSA), once crossed paths with what was potentially one of the most powerful villains ever. Willie Wisher could manifest his wishes. Too bad he didn’t have an imagination.
Confronting the awesome power and teamwork of the Seven Soldiers, Willie’s first tactical wish is to separate himself from the heroes with a steel wall. Ignoring several obvious flaws with this idea, the Soldiers simply slice through it. Willie decides he needs to up the ante with… a handful of gorillas. They don’t last long, and he ineptly follows them with a group of dopey criminals. His imagination exhausted, he limply wishes for a broomstick to fly away on, but even that plan is stymied by Green Arrow.
8. SPIDER MAN
No, not the one with a hyphen. Far from the “friendly neighborhood,” this Spider Man hails instead from the deepest recesses of humanity’s bowels. A hawkish, wrinkly old man, he dresses in a skintight costume of ratty black fur that’s been slathered with a greasy resin to avoid sticking to his own webbing. And he has no need for clean, automated web-shooters; he’s got a giant leather bladder that he squeezes to shoot white goo all over everybody.
He did turn out to be an impressive foe for Captain Marvel, though–he escaped capture after releasing a load of what he calls “sticky plastic” into Captain Marvel’s unexpecting face and mouth. But he seemed to otherwise fail to capture the hearts of comic-buying children everywhere. Or anywhere.
Like a brilliant supernova or a rock star in the ’70s, Grasshopper was on this Earth only too briefly.
Dour Taggert could have been a pretty nifty addition to the Marvel roster. He had a wicked suit that gave him the ability to leap incredible distances, to have telescopic visions, and a special “grasshopper sense” that alerted him to danger. But destiny had other plans for Grasshopper, and one day steered his hoppings towards a facility being robbed by mercenaries. All the hubbub attracts the Great Lakes Avengers, who immediately enlisted the promising youngster into their roster… and a couple of seconds later, the poor boy had a knife embedded in his skull.
6. WES CASSADY
Wes Cassady, a humble construction foreman, is one day bitten by a radioactive rabbit, bestowing him with the awesome powers of… well, a rabbit.
But rabbits really pack a wallop! And so does Cassady: he has incredible jumping and leaping power, rapid deadly kicks, and a “rabbit sense” that allows him to intuit danger. We get to see his powers on display as he deals single-handedly with a dangerous fire at his site. He dodges flying debris, busts barriers, and smothers fires with his powerful rabbit-thighs!
His performance is impressive enough that Spider-Man, who had been observing Cassady’s skills, ends up approaching him with an offer to join the web-slinger on some super-adventures. Cassady takes a pass, though, saying he’s a family man and just wants to live a normal life. Fair enough.
This robot had it all. Built by bad-guy Chuda, Replicus sported super-speed, super-strength, and super-agility. He also radiated heat-power from his fingers, had super-blast power coming out of his head, and shot metal cables out of its hands to incapacitate enemies. AND he had a storage area in his torso where he could store stuff, which is something a lot of other robots don’t have.
Chuda built Replicus as a prototype for an army to be deployed across the continent, spreading chaos and disorder. Replicus’s trial run was to rob a bank and sow civil disorder, which went off as planned, but Chuda had to get into a fight with his accomplice, Slugger. Knocking themselves into Replicus’s power supply–which, of course, blew up instantly–killed all three of them, along with their hopes of one day making it in the comic pages.
SnowFlame wasn’t around long, and that’s probably a good thing. Endowed with an impressive arsenal of superpowers that he can access only when under the influence of cocaine, this drug-trafficking supervillain really knows how to leave an impression.
Coke gives him superhuman strength, superhuman speed, an immunity to pain, and a personality similar to Dennis Hopper at the end of Apocalypse Now. It also covers his body with a shimmering white flame, and if you touch him, you get high, too. If that’s not enough, his powers increase the more blow he shovels up his nose. It’s a humbling array of abilities, and he actually defeats the New Guardians when they first attempt to stop his trafficking operations… but dies after his own henchmen stuff him into a shed that subsequently explodes. Live fast, die young, SnowFlame.
Poor, doomed William. A mutant whose abilities activated upon birth, William’s power was a disaster: unending Optic Blasts. As a child, he had to be kept laying on his back, the only way he could use his eyes without blowing everything up. Even with his eyes closed, the energy would leak out if he walked around, affecting everyone and everything around him.
Lying on your back all day might seem like a great way to spend your adolescence, but at one point, William couldn’t take it anymore and ran away from the monastery he was housed in. Finding a nearby carnival, he rigged one of the rides to spin constantly and sat in it, his eye open to the night sky above As the energy poured out of him, William’s life essence drained until he finally passed away. Depressing stuff. Let’s hope they don’t give him a new series.
2. THE POSSESSORS
An extra-dimensional alien race, the Possessors are kind of like the Borg. They lack individuality, they’re unimpressed with other forms of life, they can take control over any being, and they seek to enslave humanity. Unlike the Borg, though, they were into trippy astral projection and defensive crystals… It was the 1960s.
Using some anonymous Bavarian village as a staging ground for their grand plan, the Possessors don’t encounter much resistance from the hapless locals, and so they begin planning their expansion to the rest of the world. But Doctor Strange, never shy of astral travels and psychedelic phenomena, catches some very un-groovy vibes emanating from Germany and transports himself there for a rollicking battle. The Possessors lose, of course, and run back to whatever astral plane they were from. Just to be sure, Doctor Strange shuts the astral door behind them, keeping them out of our dimension forever.
Simon Elis (aka “Anarchist”) had the pretty useful ability to siphon energy from the Green Lantern’s Power Rings for his own personal use, and he could even bestow those powers upon others (like his henchman, for instance). Pretty awesome stuff, and very helpful if you want to rob banks, which is exactly what Anarchist and his associates wanted to do.
And they were pretty good at it, too! Even the Justice League couldn’t figure out how their crimes could have been staged, until they made the connection between Anarchist and the Power Rings. From there, it was simply a matter of blocking Anarchist’s power supply, and he and his flunkies were soon easily defeated. Green Lantern took the additional steps to install some kind of psychic firewall, preventing Anarchist from accessing the ring power — and from ever appearing in a comic — again.
What other powerful comic characters were limited to a one-off appearance? Let us know in the comments!
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