Give me your tired concepts, your poorly thought-out characters, your Z-list heroes yearning to be seen. Jon Morris, an obsessive comic book fan and blogger, has read eighty years’ worth of superhero comics, and shows us that for every Superman or Batman, there are half a dozen super-powered also-rans like Dynamite Thor, Nature Boy, and the Ferret, who somehow got their own shot at comic book stardom, even if readers weren’t buying it, figuratively or literally. The League of Regrettable Superheroes: Half-Baked Heroes from Comic Book History is the entertaining fruit of that careful research.
To be fair, Sturgeon’s Law says that 90% of everything is crap, and Morris’s guided tour through the Golden (1938-1949), Silver (1950-1969), and Modern (1970-?) Ages of comics proves that bad comics, like bad movies, books, TV shows, and songs, are fundamentally works of self-parody. Whether their creators were hopelessly cynical, or slaves to an unfortunate passion project, the results were the same: characters divorced from both art and life, going through the motions of heroism, but in bad faith. They were as unbelievable as any other superhero, but they were ciphers; they stood for nothing.
Most of them carry the lingering scent of work-for-hire crafted under tight deadlines. There’s the cross-dressing crimebuster Madam Fatal; Captain Truth, a shirtless, pants-less, homeless teen who fought gangsters while wearing little more than a cape and a plumed musketeer hat; Rainbow Boy and his on-again, off-again partner, HydroMan; B’wana Beast, one of those white jungle masters (but with a particularly disturbing super power); the ethically challenged Captain Science; the NFL Superpro (who fought his own rogues’ gallery of football-themed villains); space alien-baiting long-haul trucker U.S. 1; and that’s just for starters. Even such big guns as Neal Adams, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko, left to their own devices, proved that they desperately needed a writer/editor to rein in their excesses.
You’re unlikely to feel nostalgic for any of the 100 characters or teams documented in The League of Regrettable Superheroes, but as entertainingly horrid examples of what not to do when creating comics, they’re perfect.