American comics taught me two essential life skills. Always beware of radioactive spiders and expect all Superheroes to be tall, athletic, and oozing with testosterone. You too probably went through adolescence thinking that every Superhero had to be an Anglo-Saxon, middle-class, heterosexual male, right? Well look upon these “Marvel” and “DC” aberrations, oh mortals, and salute those comic book artists who didn’t get that particular memo. For below are their outrageous creations, the campiest looking superheroes in comic book history.
6 HE SHE (DC)
The early 1940s was a dark time for the USA. At war with Axis forces across the world, her teenagers needed a wholesome alternative to the evils of fascist indoctrination. So enter stage left HE SHE. A cross-dressing mutant. Part man, part woman she refused to be stereotyped or put in a box. Well unless that box was labelled “psychopathic murderer and cat killer.”
Perhaps one of the weirdest, creepiest characters ever, HE SHE was a supervillain who appeared in “Boy Comics”, a Golden Age strip starring an annoying masked teenager and his pet monkey sidekick. (Huh?)
In one glorious strip HE SHE marries her landlady for her money. Unfortunately, she discovers HE SHE’s sordid secret resulting in HE SHE killing her and just for good measure her pet cat too. Using her feminine charms, she then escapes just by turning around and changing profile.
On the run, she fools everyone but “boys” pet monkey who is seemingly oblivious to her transvestite charms. Exit one creepy feline slayer via the electric chair.
The mind boggles at just what sort of issues the artist was working through with this glorious creation, or just what the publishers were thinking of by targeting it at impressionable teenage boys.
5 BLACK HAWK (DC)
With his square jaw, leather military outfit and cap set at a jaunty angle, BLACKHAWK was less a comic book superhero, more a “Tom Of Finland” pinup.
Created by “Quality Comics” in 1941 BLACKHAWK lead a small team of multinational pilots against the menace of the Axis. Though the magazine ceased publishing DC took over the rights to many of the characters and BLACKHAWK remained phenomenally popular throughout the 1950s and ’60s. His Marlon Brando biker good looks dated quickly in the era of flower power however, and the original BLACKHAWK was cancelled in 1968.
4 TYROC (DC)
By the 1970s the comic industry was struggling to come to terms with an African American cultural and political renaissance. Music, Film and TV all began to feature strong role models for black kids to emulate, and in 1976 the comic industry reluctantly hopped aboard the soul train. How? By creating the campiest looking hero with the stupidest superpower in history.
TYROC was given the ubiquitous afro haircut, dressed like an extra from “Shaft” and inflicted with a superpower based solely on his ability to emit ridiculous reality warping screams.
Even artist Mike Grell confessed to sabotaging his own character in protest at DC’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for compelling black characters. He admitted later that he deliberately set out to make him look ridiculous. “I gave him a silly costume. It was somewhere between Elvis’ Las Vegas costume and something you would imagine a pimp on the street corner wearing.”
Officially a member of the Legion of Superheroes TRYOC was so underwhelming that he was the only Legionnaire to “disappear” for 15 years. Rumours that he was last seen performing with the 70s’ soul band “the Stylistics” were never confirmed.
3 PLASTIC MAN (DC)
Believe it or not kids there was once a time when “plastic” seemed wonderfully rare and exotic. That time was 1941.
Using a tried and tested route that would be rehashed numerous times in the future, PLASTIC MAN attained his superpowers after his bloodstream was infected with chemicals. His body now had all of the properties of rubber, allowing him to stretch, bounce and mould himself into any shape.
Unfortunately, his costume did not possess similar attributes, resulting in one of the campiest outfits ever. A skin-tight, thigh cut leotard with open body lacing and Elton John wraparound sunglasses. As the years progressed, the glasses seemed to get smaller and the leotard ever more accessorised. In his final incarnation, he looked less like a Superhero and more like a DJ at New York’s “Studio 54.”
2 WONDER MAN (MARVEL)
Did you ever wonder what Stan Lee would have looked like if he had actually turned into a superhero? Behold WONDER MAN; the only safari jacketed Superhero in History. Marvel’s very own lounge lizard, he probably spent most of his career with Heff in the Bunny Mansion.
Created by writer Stan Lee in 1964, for a brief period he even sported his trademark dapper moustache and tinted glasses as accessories to his corduroy slacks, turtle neck sweater and suede jacket.
Though initially, Wonder Man was a strong contender for campiest looking superheroes in comic book history, this sartorial elegance has been lost in recent Marvel incarnations of the character. Sadly he now has a far duller stock WWF style costume and trendy hipster glasses. We say bring back the safari jacket and let the worlds super villains tremble at the quality of the cross stitching on that collar.
1 WUNDARR THE AQUARIAN (MARVEL)
Though he faced some fierce competition, the award for the campiest looking superheroes in comic book history, undoubtedly belongs to the magnificent WUNDARR.
From his perfectly symmetrical scarlet beard, down to his thigh length silver boots, this guy looked like a walking amalgam of Jesus of Nazareth, Greek singer Demis Roussos and Aquaman actor Jason Mamoa.
His signature outfit featured a unique chest exposing key cut kaftan with ridiculously impractical drooping sleeves that would have made Gandalf green with envy.
Wundarr first appeared in 1973, the only year in the 20th century when beards were fashionable. As a so-called “Herald of a New Age”, he aided Doctor Strange in preventing planet-wide disasters on Earth, before eventually settling in southern California, where his followers regarded him as a spiritual Guru.
Sadly once there he seemed to spend most of his time roaming around giving mystical salutes that looked suspiciously like the Vulcan salutation from “Star Trek.” And that my friends has to be the campiest retirement ever for a Superhero.
Comic books can cure America’s drug-addled teenagers! Don’t believe me? Well, see how the Regan government attempted to educate its children on the perils of drug use. No prizes for guessing it ended badly. Read my blog on http://www.englishmanlovesamerica.com/users-are-losers-anti-drug-campaign/
Read how Golden Age comic books destroyed Communism and taught Americas impressionable teenagers the evils of the “red menace.” It always ends with an atomic surprise for Ivan! http://www.englishmanlovesamerica.com/cold-war-comics/
For a biography of the genius that was Stan Lee see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stan_Lee