While working on my list of superpowers, one of the more interesting superpowers I added, that was not on my previous list of 150 superpowers, was the ability to merge human beings into a single being (power 99). Writing about this superpower brought back a lot of memories. I first read Childhood’s End when I was a teenager and the book kind of scared the crap out of me because there was something deeply true about the novel. In Childhood’s End the Overlords look like demons. Our fear of demons is a premonition of a fate in which humans become a single organism. Childhood’s End is a novelistic version of the Omega Point put forth by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The recent TV series version of Childhood’s End also got me thinking about the subject of MERGED HUMANS! This article will explore (1) how humans have been merged, (2) why humans have been merged and different (3) types of merging in comic books.
The flavor missing from the list is the flavor you see in any number of science fiction movies in which emerging technologies are used to enhance humans to serve the interests of the state which are generally military. Captain America is enhanced to fight Nazis as super soldier. In the future, the very same Marvel Comics super solider program is used to create Nuke (Marvel), a cyborg. I actually find the comic book version of a post human future more “realistic” than the H+ version. Enhanced humans will require deep pockets which only the state has and not the politically correct. The Kree Empire decides to use cyborg technology to create the Supreme Intelligence! The most famous cyborg collective intelligence is of course the Borg (Star Trek). The Borg have the amazing ability to assimilate both technological and biological uniqueness and then add them to the collective.
A superorganism is an organism that consists of other organisms. In the case of superorganisms, humans are merged via biological means rather than cybernetic means. In one scenario, aliens may arrive and have the ability to merge humans via biological means and humans lose their identity as individual i.e. they become the fictional version of eusocial. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the seminal movie of this type. The comic book version of an alien that takes over humans is Starro (DC) and Starro uses little star fish that attach themselves to the head of humans including even Superman to take them over an make them part of a collective intelligence.
Marvel decided to make a montage of the The Stepford Wives and The Midwich Cuckoos and created the Stepford Cuckoos (Marvel) who are quintuplets with a telepathic hive mind. Marvel also created the Uni-Mind (Marvel). The Eternals are a race that has all the powers of Superman, more or less, and can merge into a single Uni-Mind due to their Eternal physiology rather than via technological means. There is a loss of individual identity but only temporarily. The Overmind (Marvel) is an alien belonging to the Eternals of Eyung and the receptacle for entire population of several hundred million minds. The individual minds have been totally erased. The High Evolutionary use some sort of compound to accelerate human evolution and creates the Entity (Marvel) in What If -The Avengers Lost the Evolutionary War V2 #1 but individuality is retained while powers are amalgamated.
The comic book writer, Alan Moore has the Swamp Thing accidently become a collective intelligence in Swamp Thing V2 #61 (1987). The Swamp Thing creates a plant based superorganism. Alan Moore always uses a unique POV to make an old topic interesting. The problem of unmerging the collective is seen from the POV of those merged first and the Green Lantern who wants to save the merged innocents and tries different solutions. Compare this POV driven approach to storytelling to how the Uni-Mind, Ubersaurus and Mangog are summarily unmerged.
Brit (Image) fights a one-shot unnamed merged human supervillain in Brit V1 #1.
1.3) Technological Singularity
In the technological singularity scenario, computers create even better computers and those better computers create even better computers and on and on until computers quickly reach a level of artificial intelligence (AI) that soon totally surpasses human intelligence. This article is about merging humans not AI so let’s assume computers don’t like waste and merge humans into the machine. In “real” life, I think super computers would either ignore us or eliminate us but conquering us or more salaciously conquering our women seems to sell more books and tickets!
In the comic book version of the technological singularity the computers mostly conquer humans or try to eliminate us but we put up a really good fight. Brainiac (DC) is the number one comic book robot that goes this route. Brainiac shrinks cities so he can study them the way a youngster studies an ant farm. The concept is totally insane but a lot of fun and allows for a slew of Kandor related stories since this is the city Brainiac “saved” from the destruction of Krypton. If there is no Kandor then there is no Superman Emergency Squad! Finally, if there is no Superman Emergency Squad then you can’t have a fight between them and Supergirl in Action 276.
Ultron (Marvel) used to want to eliminate humans but lately he has started to merge humans.
A similar plot twist happened in the Terminator franchise. In Terminator Genisys, Skynet turns John Connor, the leader of the human resistance, into a Terminator! I suppose both 1.1 and 1.3 are examples of cyborg technology from a technological point of view but I would say if you as a human are mostly computer and more importantly it was done to you by a computer than it’s still an expression of technological singularity and a very important difference in terms of novelistic conflict.
1.4) Unknown Means
In the case of the Omega Point, the role of biological and technological merging of humans is not specified and/or irrelevant. Merged humans provide theological answers so the ends not the means are more relevant. In Childhood’s End one assumes scientific means are used but as in the case of the Omega Point, the details of how this merging happens is not specified. Odin creates Mangog (Marvel) using magic but magic isn’t much of an explanation. Mostly I just don’t want to make a whole category just for Mangog!
2.0) Why would you create merged humans?
2.1) Evolutionary Imperative
Merging human is just the right thing to do! Come on humans as individuals suck! You know it! I know it! We are going to destroy ourselves in the next twenty minutes anyway so we might as well merge and go up the evolutionary ladder. Do you think microbes liked being part of a larger multicellular body? Of course not! It’s the next stage and we will be happier for going up the ladder. The Borg know assimilation is just the right thing to do! Teilhard de Chardin doesn’t suggest there is a choice but God is behind the plan so it must be the right thing to do.
Two brains are better than one and two thousand brains are probably better than two. The Kree Empire use technology to create the Supreme Intelligence which is an amalgam of the best and brightest minds of Kree history. The Supreme Intelligence is created to create a cosmic cube but refuses but is kept around anyway for governance. The Eternals merge into a Uni-Mind temporarily to make big decisions.
Merged humans might have military applications. Maybe the Borg didn’t create a hive mind mostly for military purposes but they do tend to kick Starfleet around without much trouble. Even the Q (Star Trek) don’t mess with the Borg. The Overmind (Marvel) and the Ubersaur (Astro City) were created specifically for combat!
“Hell is other People”, according to Sartre. Odin is obviously a big fan of Sartre and decided the best way to punish a people was to merge them into a single entity called Mangog. Mangog in turn almost destroys his kingdom. Odin’s merging makes no sense whatsoever but this is often the case with the Marvel version of Odin! However, the idea of a criminal feeling the pain of their victim does make some sense. In The Crow, protagonist Eric Draven makes villain Top Dollar feel 30 hours of his (Eric’s) murdered girlfriend Shelly’s pain in one moment.
3.0) Type of Merging
There are at least three possibilities when it comes to merging (3.1) Mind only, (3.2) Body mostly (lack of super intelligence) and (3.3) Mind and Body. The type of merging is sadly neglected in one of the most popular fan boy fights: What would happen if the Uni-Mind fought the Supreme Intelligence. The Uni-Mind can fly and seems to be an amalgam of the Eternals physically not just mentally (3.3). The Uni-Mind, unlike the Supreme Intelligence, is more like a thousand Supermans in one big body. Actually the Uni-Mind hasn’t really shown any super intelligence feats but has vast psionic powers and is used for governance sporadically so one assumes there is some sort of super intelligence at work.
The Supreme Intelligence is probably more intelligent because more minds make up the Supreme Intelligence than the Uni-Mind. However, physically the Supreme Intelligence physically is a collection of computers and brains and can only control three androids to fight (3.1). However, the Supreme Intelligence does have vast psionic powers. The Supreme Intelligence is one of the great manipulators of the Marvel Universe and ruthlessly created the Nega-Bomb to force the evolution of the Kree race while not letting the Kree know about its genocidal plan directed at the Kree themselves for a larger end! The Supreme Intelligence can access all the information of the Kree Empire, process that information and come up with extremely complex plans that have been successful in the past.
Minus prep, the Uni-Mind wins in a conflict with the Supreme Intelligence. The Uni-Mind is powerful enough to just fly through Kree space and blast the Supreme Intelligence to death. The Supreme Intelligence has some psionic powers but not to the same extent as the Uni-Mind. Without prep then the conflict is more or less Superman versus a computer installation!
If there is prep then the Supreme Intelligence has the vast resources of the interstellar Kree Empire and superior intelligence to use those resources. This would be Superman versus a computer installation which is guarded by an insane level of military resources and they know you are coming and of course they can come after you first! The Kree Empire did create the Inhumans as their answer to the Celestial created Eternals and if they can create a super race then surely they can create weapons to take out a super race.
The Supreme Intelligence can send out an armada that conquers worlds, Sentries, giant robots with vast destructive potential, and specialized weaponry designed to take out Eternals merged or not. The Supreme Intelligence is the brain of the Kree Empire. The Uni-Mind is more agile as a body and brain in one package but the Supreme Intelligence has a body which is the Kree Empire at its disposal with prep. Also, the Supreme Intelligence is more redundant. The Supreme Intelligence is a vast network and the pieces can be replaced with more brains and more computers. The Supreme Intelligence is more of a distributed network. The Uni-Mind is a single entity flying in the sky. A really powerful entity but one target when it’s all said and done. The Uni-Mind was been taken out by a single blast from a Celestial in the past!
The Overmind (Marvel) received vast psionic powers due to his merging but not the physical powers of the millions that he is the merged version of or super intelligence.
What if there is a physical merging but not a merging of minds (3.2)? You merge beings to get super strength. There are major disadvantages to having an amalgam body lacking super intelligence or psionic powers. Mangog is a savage creature of unbelievable strength and is much stronger than Thor. However, Mangog is easily taken apart by Odin. Super intelligence could have given Magog the ability to create a defense against Odin.
Ubersaurus (Astro City), in a manner similar to the Eternals, uses the inherent super powers of their alien physiology to create a collective being that has a collective body but the Ubersaurus doesn’t appear to be all that smart and is easily defeated by some sort of ray that a super intelligent being would have anticipated (3.2). If the Ubersaurus had psionic powers then it might have erected some sort of psionic force field to stop the ray.
The Swamp Thing becomes a physically impressive specimen but the merging leaves him in a state of shock. A merged creature minus super intelligence or psionic defenses is easily unmerged with the right technology and this seems to be the main weakness of this type of merging.
I am going to argue that the Borg are an example of 3.3 but the Borg have their little version of 3.3 which makes them very interesting. Do the Borg as a hive mind have super intelligence? The Borg can store and process huge amounts of information as a hive mind that consists of countless assimilated species. The Queen of the Borg serves some sort of information processing nexus function that is not totally explained in the Star Trek universe. The Borg can adapt to all sorts of technology almost instantly and if this isn’t super intelligence certainly this ability mimics super intelligence.
However, stratagems by Starfleet do seem to work against the Borg and Borg intelligence seems to have blind spot when it comes to individuals. The Borg do not so much assimilate individuals as civilizations so individuals are ignored and an individual might be able to slip past Borg defenses and do damage to the Borg that is disproportionate to the apparent potential of the individual. A Borg, Hugh is infected with a computer virus and the Enterprise crew is pretty sure their stratagem will work if Hugh is assimilated again. The human equivalent would be blankets with Small Pox given to Native Americans and a being with super intelligence would see through such a trick easily. The Borg have assimilated humans so this particular historical example would be in their data base. The Borg are like an idiot savant in some ways. Their knowledge is deep and detailed but their thought sometimes lacks common sense. The Borg are more robotic and slow moving and slow thinking than human and agile of mind and body.
The Borg can create a custom nexus similar to the Borg Queen that deals with particular problems. The Borg created a nexus called Locutus out of Captain Picard in order to take out the Federation. This custom made nexus seems to give the Borg the advantages of both a hive mind and a quicker more agile individual mind in one package. I see Locutus as being a custom made chip designed for a particular problem. The Borg as a collective are a cybernetic system that is smart enough to create a cybernetic expert system when needed and by assimilating Captain Picard avoid the knowledge acquisition problem.
Do the Borg have some sort of ability to merge their humanoid bodies? The Borg as a cube ship seem to have some sort of ability to draw on the physical reserves of all the individual Borg in the cube ship for regeneration from attacks that would destroy any Starfleet ship (3.3). Individual Borg outside of the cube ship do not have this ability.
I would say the Entity is an example of 3.3 taken to a higher level than any other being in comic book history. The Entity can destroy both Eternity and Death physically because it’s an amalgam of most of the Marvel Universe superheroes who have also been evolved. Even the merged humans, not super humans, can disintegrate a Celestial with just a thought!
In conclusion the topic of merged humans in comic books appears to be simple but actually has a lot of components that make the topic more interesting.
I first heard of The 36 Stratagems when I was working on a comic book story with Bruce Lee in 1974. The story was eventually published in The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #14 (see cover above). Bruce Lee envisioned a story that revolved around stratagem three of the 36 Statagems “Kill with a Borrowed Knife” that entails using the strength of another to defeat your enemies. Bruce knew me from my cinema work in which I played the role of an evil psychologist turning nice Hong Kong girls, among others, into killing machines or worse in the The Evil Dr. Fox series produced by Shaw Brothers Studios. We had tried again and again to make a “Bruce Lee vs. Dr. Fox” movie in Hong Kong without success.
The comic book was definitely a plan B. There was a metafictional aspect to our comic book collaboration since Bruce Lee would more or less be playing himself in the comic book story. I had played heavies in various B films in Hong Kong before the success of the mad psychologist Dr. Fox series. In hindsight, I realize that using my actual last name as that of the character in that series was probably not a good idea. I actually was a professor working as an English teacher in a Hong Kong university language center. I did some acting on the side to earn extra money and because acting was also a lot of fun. I would like to take this opportunity to separate fact from fiction.
The real Dr. Fox cannot do the incredible kung fu stunts that are seen in my movies. I do have some knowledge of martial arts but I am more a theoretician than a practicioner:
The real Dr. Fox knows absolutely nothing about brainwashing. If you want to learn English then give me a call but if you want to brainwash your ex-girlfriend to fall in love with you again then I am the wrong person for that task. Metaschizophrenia, the Bureau of Intelligence Synthesis and corrective reality are all fictions and not real!
A stratagem is often used as a synonym for the word “strategy” and this is an incorrect use of the term. A stratagem is more correctly defined as a ruse. However, I think the term ruse is simplistic when applied to the term stratagem. Based on the historical usage of the word, I would describe a stratagem as a ruse used for military and/or political purposes. Also, a stratagem is a ruse that has been used for purposes other than mere monetary gain unlike a confidence trick. For example, the Spanish prisoner con is basically the same as “7) Create Something Out of Nothing. – Turn something that is not substantial into reality” stratagem in the list of stratagems below at an operational level but the contextual historical background is totally different. Operational similarities aside, the contextual background of the ruse given to the potential user is important for easy applicability. A con man may have trouble understanding an operation given in a military context. A military officer might have trouble applying a con explained within a monetary context to a military situation. One of the recurring plot lines of modern fiction is having cons that are generally used for criminal purposes for government goals as is the case in the popular franchise Mission Impossible. However, translating operations to a different context may not be as easy as the mentioned franchise suggests.
I would also like to contrast a stratagem with a ruse of war. For example moving landmarks to confuse the enemy is clearly a ruse of war but I would not call it a stratagem. Historically, a stratagem has a larger goal than the mere temporary confusion of the enemy. Perhaps a stratagem is a ruse of war with strategic rather than tactical intent. I would define a stratagem as a ruse of war with strategic intent. In short:
1) A con is a ruse for monetary gain.
2) A ruse of war is a ruse for tactical military gain.
3) A stratagem is a ruse for strategic military and/or political gain.
I would like to apply this system of ruse classification to a particular historical example that would have been difficult to classify prior to this article.
In Operation Bernhard, the Nazis counterfeited British pounds in order to destabilize the British economy. Was Operation Bernhard a con, ruse of war or a stratagem? Certainly Operation Bernhard was a ruse. I would argue that Operation Bernhard was not a con since the objective was political and not monetary. If the goal was to supply Nazi agents with local money in Britain then it would be a ruse of war. Since the goal was strategic then I would say Operation Bernhard was a stratagem and specifically: “2) Besiege Wei to Rescue Zhao. – Attack their Achilles heel” in the list below.
Feudal Chinese military strategists suggested the study of stratagems as part of basic military education. The 36 Stratagems is an essay that explains stratagems in detail. This essay shows how the 36 stratagems have been portrayed in comic books. The author of this essay doubts the comic book writers were aware of the Chinese text on this subject but learned about the stratagems indirectly and used them largely for plot purposes rather than edification. An essay of how the 36 stratagems have been used in comic books provides an interesting extension of literary criticism and how theories other than literary theory can help us understand modern media such as comic books.
The 36 stratagems are traditionally broken into six categories with six stratagems per category. I find the categories are largely useless and create logical confusion. The rationale for the six categories probably has more to do with Taoist aesthetics than any operational logic. For example, #31, the honey trap is under the category six of “Desperate Stratagems” but this stratagem could just as easily be classified under category two, “Enemy dealing stratagems”. For the purposes of utility, the categories have been deleted and a simple 1-36 list has been used instead.
The Original 36 Stratagems – Contemporary Maxims
1) Cross the sea by deceiving the sky. Act in the open, but hide your true intentions.
This is the use of a series of false alarms so that when you actually attack then you will have the element of surprise. Supervillains don’t use this stratagem very much since every time they move then they get caught because of the dictates of a media were the good guys always win. However in World’s Finest #88, the Joker and Lex Luthor commit a series of crimes that are actually Mechano-Men stunts and not crimes.
In his first appearance in Action Comics V1, #51, the Prankster gives money to banks in apparent bank robberies until he decides to start robbing banks instead when the guard of the banks is let down.
Lex Luthor has used Green Kryptonite to attack Superman at least a hundred times. At this point the idiom Kryptonite to signify an Achilles heel is probably better known than the original antecedent idiom. This only works if the bad guys know the fatal weakness of the super hero. There can be an irony to the Achilles heel of a superhero as a plot device. For example, Daredevil is more vulnerable to sonic attack due to his enhanced hearing but this has been kept secret by Daredevil.
The Achilles heel of most superheroes is their loved ones. The Injustice: Gods Among Us explores a universe in which the Joker has killed Lois Lane, Superman’s unborn son and most of Metropolis. In the comic book, not the video game, that is ongoing, Superman seems to be on the path of creating a dictatorship. In the comic book, the US government attempts but fails to keep Superman’s adopted family, Jonathan and Martha Kent in a Mirror Master dimension but this attempt fails. Superman emerges angrier than ever due to this attempt by the US government.
The problem of the loved ones Achilles heel is that once you used up loved ones then your enemy is enraged and stronger than ever. This seems to apply to real life to some extent.
Iron Man had his armor hijacked by a Hypersonic Scan Transmitter in the Demon in a Bottle story line. Justin Hammer used the hijacked armor to kill an Ambassador while Iron Man was in the armor and effectively framing Iron Man for murder.
Overall, super villains are constantly looking for the weakness of their favorite super hero and will attack such a weakness without mercy.
Green Lantern has a green Power ring that is one of the most powerful weapons in the DC universe but the Power ring has an Achilles heel and that is that the Power ring is unable to affect objects colored yellow. Sinestro had a yellow Power ring which in turn was ineffective with objects colored green! This is cute use of the Achilles heel plot device but does seem a little too much in a modern context. The Earth 2 Green Lantern, Alan Scott, has a Power ring unable to affect wooden objects. Green Lanterns have a weapon of incredible power so the only way a fight with bank robbers could not be totally one sided and interesting was to introduce a ridiculous Achilles heel.
Mon-El is a Daxamite. Daxamites are about as powerful as a race as Superman who is a Kryptonian. However, the Achilles heel of Daxamites is a vulnerability to even small traces of lead. Presumably this plot device prevents the Daxamites from taking over the DC universe. In a similar manner, the Martian Manhunter is more or less as powerful as Superman but is vulnerable to fire! DC first used Kryptonite to allow interesting plots with a being as powerful as Superman and then continued this practice with Green Lantern, Mon-El, and the Martian Manhunter. This use of a very fine tuned Achilles heel is a hallmark of the DC Silver age and seems forced nowadays.
3) Kill with a borrowed knife. Attack using the strength of another person.
In Avengers, Vol1, #1,Loki tries to trick the Hulk into fighting Thor but instead ends up creating the Avengers. Loki bailed out the Cobra and Mr. Hyde and doubled their powers and aimed them at Thor’s Achilles heel, the current love of his life Jane Foster. Loki has created super villains to fight Thor including the Absorbing Man. Loki tricked the Silver Surfer into fighting Thor (Silver Surfer, V1, #4). Loki in Acts of Vengeance attacked the Avengers by creating a team of super villains who in turn used even other super villains to attack the Avengers. Loki’s true goal was to hurt his half-brother Thor.
Daredevil used HYDRA to destroy the Kingpin’s organization in the Last Rites story arc (Daredevil #297-300). The Kingpin nearly destroyed Daredevil in the Born Again story line earlier via a series of stratagems so there is a plot symmetry in Daredevil striking back against the Kingpin using a stratagem.
Darkseid has supplied advanced weaponry to Intergang in order fight Earth’s superheroes and to track down the Anti-Life Equation. Darkseid also created an incarnation of the Secret Society of Supervillains and kept his involvement secret from the supervillains for an extended period of time. Darkseid knew many supervillains are interested in loot rather than the larger strategic goals he had.
Justin Hammer supplied advanced technology to Iron Man’s adversaries in exchange for fifty percent of the loot the supervillains stole. Justin Hammer also used stratagem #2 to attack Iron Man.
4) Relax and wait for the adversary to tire himself out. Exercise patience and wear them down
Doctor Octopus unsuccessfully tried to wear Spider-Man down using the newly formed Sinister Six who attacked Spider-Man one by one in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1. Doctor Octopus hoped that the exhausted Spider-Man would be defeated when he attacked Spider-Man last.
In The Dark Knight Returns, Batman uses this stratagem to fight Superman. Batman attacks Superman with an otherworldly Batmobile, followed by cruise missiles and finally has Green Arrow shoot Kryptonite tipped arrows to weaken Superman sufficiently so that Batman with his exoskeleton can give Superman a beating before Batman appears to die of a self-induced heart attack.
5) Loot a burning house. Hit them when they are down.
Attack the enemy when they have internal difficulties. The Kingpin literally blew up Daredevil’s house after framing him for bribery, destroying him financially and overall attacking him as Matt in the Born Again story arc. The Kingpin muses that a destroyed Daredevil might serve him! The Born Again story line also illustrates stratagem #2 and the use of interlocking stratagems, stratagem #35.
Comic books need fights and fights between super heroes like Thor and the Hulk are always popular. You see a lot of “temporary misunderstandings” between super heroes but after the mandatory six to ten panel fight, the misunderstanding is patched up and the heroes unite to fight the supervillain that created the conflict in the first place.
6) Make a feint to the east while attacking in the West. Fake to the right; attack to the left.
Ozymandias was defeated by the Comedian during their first fight due to a feint. The Prankster in the Modern Age acts as distraction-for-hire for Superman for a fee while criminals commit crimes. Batman has been known to “miss” with his Batarang because he is actually going for a ricochet shot. Daredevil does the same thing as Batman but with his Billy Club not a Batarang.
7) Create something out of nothing. Turn something that is not substantial into reality.
Vaporware is the modern equivalent of this stratagem. The Prankster copyrights the English language and then charges fees for use of the alphabet! Ozymandias tricks the world with a fake alien in order to unite the world in a war against the aliens and stop WW III from happening.
8) Secretly utilize the Chen Cang passage. Pretend to advance down one path while taking another hidden path. Pretend to care about an issue and later give it up to get what you really want.
This stratagem is a more specific version of “(6) Make a Feint to the East While Attacking in the West. – Fake to the right; attack to the left”. The difference is that beyond misinformation there is the use of physical baits such as a decoy. Iron Man, Loki and Dr. Strange all have the ability to make mirror images of their own image in order to confuse the enemy. If you try to touch the mirror copy then your hand will go through the copy and the copy cannot interact with the enemy so the illusion only creates temporary confusion. This is a type of illusion whether the origin is holographic science in the case of Iron Man or magic in the case of Dr. Strange and Loki. This power is used in an irregular manner with the characters mentioned.
Mirror Master uses the power in a more consistent manner in order to flee from the Flash who has super speed. The Mirror Master will often make multiple holograms of himself that flee in different directions. Flash is fast enough to chase all the holograms so this rarely works but this doesn’t stop the Mirror Master from using this trick again and again.
A slightly different version of this stratagem is the use of robotic copies. When dealing with Doctor Doom, you never know if you are dealing with Doctor Doom or a robotic copy of Doctor Doom. While you are dealing with the Doctor Doom robot, the real Doctor Doom can be watching from afar and coming up with some other counter plan. Robots that are created by Doctor Doom that are exact replicas of Doctor Doom are called Doombots.
S.H.I.E.L.D makes extensive use of Life Model Decoys (LMDs). Nick Fury LMDs serve a similar function for Nick Fury as Doombots for Doctor Doom. In the case of Doombots and LMDs the problem of controlling the robots has been a plot device. Your robotic copy can try to supplant the original! Max Fury is an LMD that has played a prominent role in the Marvel Universe.
Tony Stark (Iron Man’s secret identity) is probably the second greatest user of LMDs after Nick Fury. Tony Stark was paralyzed and used the Neuromimetic Telepresence Unit 150 (NTU-150) to act as a remote controlled version of Iron Man.
9) Watch the fire burning from across the river. Allow them to fight your other enemy while you rest and observe. Later, defeat the exhausted survivor.
Ultra Boy, of the Legion of Super-Heroes, used covert means to trick Mordru into attacking Glorith in order to stop Glorith from taking over the universe (Legion of Super-Heroes Annual V4 #1.
10) Conceal a dagger in a smile. Befriend them to get their guard down, then attack their weakest point.
The Batman has some very charming enemies. The Joker often smiles and even laughs as he kills his victims. The Joker also likes to make his victims smile while they die as well with his patented Joker venom. The Riddler is another smooth talking rogue that is an enemy of Batman. Ra’s al Ghul treats Batman as a worthy opponent and calls Batman detective out of respect.
Ra’s al Ghul has a daugher, Talia al Ghul, does more than smile for Batman and has given Batman a son! Talia seemingly becomes an ally of Luthor and runs LexCorp while Luthor is President but secretly sells LexCorp to Wayne Enterprises in order to ruin Lex Luthor. However, Talia is a ruthless criminal that will fight Batman.
Ozymandias is very genial even as he battles Rorschach, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre.
11) Sacrifice a plum tree to save a peach tree. Let the plum tree wither in place of the peach tree. Trade up! Take a small loss for a large gain.
Super villains are more than willing to sacrifice henchmen for any sort of advantage or just kill them for fun. Probably the worst super villain boss is the Joker who gets a kick out of shooting, electrocuting and poisoning henchmen left and right.
12) Take away a goat in passing. Take advantage of every small opportunity.
The Taskmaster is an interesting super villain who decided a lot of small opportunities with small risk is a better idea than the big score. The Taskmaster runs a school for henchmen. In general, super villains do not think small and do pass up small opportunities. The biggest opportunity that super villains pass up is licensing their technology. If the technology is stolen then this makes sense but in the case of criminal masterminds like The Mad Thinker and Egghead, you have to wonder why they don’t focus on being a the next Bill Gates rather than wasting their time on crime.
13) Beat the grass to startle the snake. Stir things up before beginning to negotiate for your true interests.
Ok, this is the application of stratagems to a type of genre that generally relies on fist fights for plot development. No one said this task would be easy. I am going to revise this as distraction as a tactic or even super power in a comic book. Deadpool has officially been classified as a character with the super power of distraction by a major super villain, Taskmaster. Spider-Man consistently keeps up a line of personal to funny chatter while fighting that unnerves opponents.
14) Raise a corpse from the dead. Revive a dead proposal by presenting it again or in a new way.
This stratagem means take something from the past and giving it new relevance. I guess the Chinese knew endless reboots of everything from Spider-Man to Iron Man were going to be part of the future! This may be number #14 in the list of stratagems but in comic terms this stratagems is number #1!
15) Lure the tiger out of the mountain. Seek a neutral location. Negotiate after leading them away from a position of strength.
Super heroes don’t really rely on forts and mazes to take care of their enemies. Batman has the Batcave and Superman has his Fortress of Solitude. However, the last thing super heroes want is supervillains visiting their lairs. Incredibly the opposite happens and super heroes wander into the stronghold of villains all the time. At least once every three years, the Fantastic Four visits Latveria the stronghold of Doctor Doom. This is not just a lair but a whole country that Doctor Doom controls so probably visiting Doctor Doom in Latveria is not a good idea but that doesn’t seem to deter the Fantastic Four in the least.
Doctor Doom may have a nation on his side but Luthor tops that big time by having a whole planet on his side! In the Silver age, In Superman Vol 1, #164, Luthor challenged Superman to a fight on Lexor. Lexor is a planet that has a red sun so Superman has no powers on Lexor! Also, on Lexor, Luthor is a hero and Superman is considered a villain! In Superman, Vol 1, #168, Luthor even manages to find some ancient technology that allows him to temporarily gain super powers on Lexor! Lexor is an extreme example but supervillains are often luring the super heroes into their lairs in order to have them fall into some death trap or another. This is especially the case with Batman.
Deathtraps are a comic book cliché and part of the cliché is the supervillain’s monologue that allows the super hero time to escape. Why doesn’t the supervillain just shoot the captured super hero? The answer is that the super hero needs to escape for plot purposes.
16) Let the adversary off in order to snare him. Do not arouse their spirit to fight back.
In Silver Surfer Vol 1, #5, there is a Tales of the Watcher back story, titled “Run Roco Run”. Roco ends up serving a life sentence in Jupiter but is hypnotized into believing he has escaped and therefore no longer tries to escape! This story is a retelling of “Run, Rocky, Run!” drawn by Bob Forgione in Tales to Astonish (Marvel, 1959 series) #26 (December 1961).
17) Toss out a brick to attract a piece of jade. Trade something of minor value for something of major value.
In Irredeemable, the Hornet gives the Vespan aliens a list of other habitable planets that they can conquer in exchange for leaving Earth alone and imprisoning Plutonian, a super hero gone bad. Hornet is ironically a Batman type super hero without super powers but via this stratagem turns an alien invasion around and defeats the Superman type hero Plutonian. With the right stratagem, the weakest member of the team physically can be the most important team member in terms of results.
18) To catch bandits, nab their ringleader first. Convince the leader and the rest will follow.
Supervillains do love to kidnap the President of the US. Occasionally, supervillains take over the UN in order to blackmail the whole world and not just the US. Overall, the comic book world of super heroes and supervillains is very egalitarian and chaotic. For example, Superman isn’t really the leader of the super heroes but kind of a moral guide. Reed Richards is supposed to be the leader of the Fantastic Four but he definitely has to run things by the other members especially his wife the Invisible Woman. The Avengers has a rotating leadership but Captain America generally acts as an informal leader on the battlefield at the tactical level. The X-Men do have a real leader, Professor X and occasionally Professor X is targeted as a leader.
There is no real leadership structure for the supervillain side either. Norman Osborn did create the Cabal which led to the Dark Reign storyline. The Cabal did effectively control most of the supervillains in the Marvel Universe and Hawkeye did try to assassinate Osborn (Dark Reign: The List – Avengers) and hoped that this would bring the Cabal down but failed. Lex Luthor became the President of the US and during that period could call on an army of supervillains in order to take out Superman and Batman but that didn’t last long. Leadership for both the bad guys and good guys in comic books is a network lacking central nodes that can be removed to take down the whole system.
19) Remove the fire from under the cauldron. Eliminate the source of their strength.
The source of power for some super heroes is certain environmental conditions. If you can’t find any Kryptonite then you can always remove the yellow sun which is the source of Superman’s powers. Lex Luthor does this to Superman twice in Superman Vol 1, #164 and #168. In World’s Finest, Vol 1, #163, the villain Jemphis turns the yellow sun of his planet into a red sun via atomic explosions activated by a button on his person.
DC has Aquaman who will lose his strength and die if he is out of water for extended periods of time. So of course super villains are always trying to dry dock Aquaman! Marvel has Namor the Submariner and has a similar weakness to Aquaman but while Namor’s strength will diminish out of water, Namor will not die out of water.
Green Lantern has a Power ring that is one of the most powerful weapons in the DC universe. However, the power ring needs to be recharged every 24 hours from a battery that looks like an old style lantern. Hide the lantern and you can take out the Green Lantern. Problems with the lantern are a central plot device in Green Lantern V1, #9, #20, #32, #74, and #116. If you want to take down the whole Green Lantern Corps then take out the Central Power Battery which charges all the other lanterns. When Hal Jordan went mad temporarily, he destroyed the Central Power Battery and effectively destroyed the Green Lantern Corps.
The best article on the internet about comic book weapons at:
20) Muddle the water to catch the fish. Do something surprising or unexpected to unnerve them, and then take advantage of that situation.
The Joker does crazy stunts that keep Batman and other supervillains off balance. Deadpool is a Marvel supervillain that does similar stunts. Crazy gives supervillains an advantage in the comic book world.
21) The cicada sheds its shells. When you are in trouble, secretly escape.
The idea is to escape but leave the lights on so the enemy still thinks you are home. In the Young Justice TV series, most of the Justice League and all of the heavy hitters have to appear before an off planet court. In episode #33 titled “Depths”, Young Justice impersonates the Justice League at a Mars satellite launch in order to fool any super villains that might be watching into thinking the Justice League is still on Earth.
22) Fasten the door to catch a thief. Completely destroy them by leaving no way for escape.
Prisons are largely ineffective in comic books since jailed supervillains do not make good reading. Arkham Asylum seems to be a place where the Joker rests between bouts with Batman rather than a place of incarceration. An extreme solution to problem of bad guys breaking out of jail in the DC universe was explored in the Salvation Run miniseries. The DC supervillains are imprisoned on a distant planet. The same off planet imprisonment solution was applied to the Hulk but failed spectacularly in the World War Hulk story arc. Over in the Marvel universe, Iron Man decides enough is enough and with Reed Richards creates a prison in the in the Negative Zone labeled Project 42.
23) Befriend a distant state while attacking a neighboring state. Build strategic alliances with others that will give you the upper hand.
In the TV series, Young Justice, The Light is a group of supervillains that ally themselves with the Reach, aliens, that they plan to betray after they destroy the Justice League and Young Justice i.e. superheroes on Earth.
In Irredeemable, the Hornet makes a deal with Vespan aliens to take out, a super hero gone bad, named Plutonian. Hornet also gives the Vespan a list of other habitable planets that they can conquer in exchange for leaving Earth alone and imprisoning Plutonian.
24) Borrow a safe passage to conquer the Kingdom of Guo. Attack Hu by a Borrowed Path. Temporarily join forces with a friend against a common enemy.
Spider-Man has had any number of temporary team ups with any number of superheroes in Marvel Team-Up for plot purposes but generally the rationale if any is offered is stratagem 24. Batman basically does the same thing over at DC albeit not as consistently as Spider-Man in The Brave and the Bold comic book series starting in issue #50, volume 1, and more notably in the TV series Batman: The Brave and the Bold. In general, Super heroes are better team players and friends than super villains.
Supervillains are always trying to betray their partner. Marvel had a title named Super-Villain Team-Up and actually generally ended up being the supervillain betrayal of their team member. The Secret Society of Supervillains has always been much more unstable than their counterpart the Justice League. Norman Osborn was very briefly able to unite the Marvel supervillains via the Cabal but that system soon broke down in part due to psychic sabotage of Osborn’s sanity by Loki, a fellow Cabal member. Any favor done by one supervillain to another super villain must be treated with suspicion. For example, in Superman, Vol 1, #167, Luthor increases Brainiac’s intelligence from a 10th level to a 12th level but puts in some hardware in Brainiac’s computer brain that allowed Luthor to control Brainiac!
25) Steal the dragon and replace with the phoenix. Steal the beams and pillars and replace them with rotten timber. Sabotage, incapacitate, or destroy them by removing their key support.
If you take the saying literally which is not necessarily correct then Catwoman has been known to leave a fake jewel in the place of a real jewel she has stolen so the owner doesn’t know they have been robbed. Supervillains love to blow things up. That is kind of what comic book supervillains do and there are too many examples to list here.
26) Point at the mulberry tree but curse the locust tree. Convey your intentions and opinions indirectly.
The Riddler literally talks in riddles. The Etrigan the Demon talks in rhyme and his true message is difficult to understand. These are not so much examples of ruses but aspects of the characters of the villains presumably created to make them more interesting.
27) Feign madness, but keep your balance. Pretend to be a pig in order to eat the tiger. Play Dumb, then surprise them. Let them underestimate you.
Superheroes often have secret identities. Clark Kent is the secret identity of Superman and in order to fool Lois Lane, among others, Clark will play the part of the bumbling idiot. Bruce Wayne is the secret identity of Batman. The role of Bruce Wayne is played in such a way as to convince others that Bruce Wayne cannot possibly be Batman. Bruce Wayne often feigns drunkenness in particular. Bruce Wayne has been known to use models who don’t speak English as alibis. Tony Stark is the secret identity of Iron Man but is not feigning drunkenness but actually has a drinking problem and is probably a sex addict problem as well.
My last name is fox and I am going to translate this stratagem as the idioms “clever as a fox” or “crazy like a fox”. Batman’s enemy, the Joker is probably actually crazy rather than pretending to be crazy but do not underestimate the Joker! Batman has a lot of enemies that appear crazy but are actually pretty effective as super villains. Two-Face has some sort of personality disorder that causes him to flip a coin during crucial moments in the struggle with Batman. The Riddler has a compulsion to leave a riddle about his crime before doing the crime. Announcing your crime however cryptically is probably not a good characteristic of a criminal. The list Batman enemies that suffer from criminal insanity just goes on and on and about half his enemies are housed in the Arkham Asylum for the criminally insane and actually belong there rather than faking madness. What we learn from Batman is that being nuts might actually give you an advantage in martial situations. The Batman nutcase situation differs from this stratagem in that his opponents are really crazy rather than feigning craziness.
28) Remove the ladder after your ascent. Lure the enemy onto the roof, then take away the ladder. Cross the river and destroy the bridge. Lead them into a trap, then cut off their escape.
Luring Batman into death traps is a Batman cliché at this point. The Batman TV series used a death trap cliffhanger in a formulaic manner that became boring over time. The nemesis of Austin Powers, Dr. Evil has a pathological need to use death traps. The son of Dr. Evil, Scott Evil states the reason he never kills Austin Power is “Because you never kill him when you have the chance and you’re a big dope”.
29) Decorate the tree with fake blossoms. Flowers bloom in the tree. Reframe deceitfully. Expand the pie with objects of little value.
When Doctor Doom was a young and fun loving gypsy, he sold luxury goods that appeared to be of great value to the local nobility using sorcery. When the luxury goods disintegrated then the local Baron was not happy (Annual Fantastic Four #2 )!
30) Turn yourself into a hot from being a guest. Host and guest switch roles. Turn your defensive and passive position into an offensive and active one.
This is a bit of a stretch but super hero sidekicks start out as the guest of the super hero and then often become super heroes in their own right. However, the original super hero almost never retires. Robin can become Nightwing but Batman isn’t going anywhere! The best article ever written on the topic of comic book sidekicks at:
31) Use a Beauty to ensnare a man. The honey trap. Beauty Trap. Provide alluring distractions.
Obadiah Stane used Indries Momji as a honey trap to destroy Iron Man. Indries Momji causes Stark to fall in love with her and breaks his heart in order to cause him to resume his alcoholic ways leaving Stark Industries and its Iron Man technology easy prey for Stane (The Invincible Iron Man V1 #167).
Loki used Lorelei in “For the Love of Thor” story line to manipulate Thor. In the 1978 graphic novel by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby titled the Silver Surfer: The Ultimate Cosmic Experience, Galactus created a golden clone, Ardina, of his true love Shalla-Bal, with Silver Surfer powers in order to successfully force the Silver Surfer to become his herald again.
32) Open the gate of an undefended city. Deliberately displaying your weakness can conceal your vulnerability.
In The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Batman muses how he has a bright yellow target on his chest so the bad guys will aim at his chest where he has a bullet proof vest rather than his difficult to armor head (Batman-The Dark Knight Book #1).
33) Use adversary’s spies to sow discord in your adversary’s camp. Provide inaccurate information to mislead them, especially through informal channels.
In Fantastic Four #2, Reed Richards and the rest of the Fantastic Four pretend to be Skrull spies and trick the Skrull captain with pictures from Journey into Mystery and Strange Tales into believing Earth is defended by monsters (Fantastic Four V1 #2 ).
34) Inflict pain on one’s self in order to infiltrate the adversary’s camp and win the confidence of the enemy. Appear to take some hits. Feign weakness while arming yourself.
In The Dark Knight Returns, Batman pretends to die of a self induced heart attack in order to fake his death and get off the radar. This is the third instance of the use of a stratagem in The Dark Knight Returns and perhaps this is one of the reasons among many this work is a masterpiece in the world of comic books (Batman-The Dark Knight Book #4 ).
n researching this stratagem I found out there is a lot more self-inflicted pain in comic books than I would have imagined! Captain Carnage pretended to be a super villain in order to get beaten up presumably for masochistic reasons in the Watchmen universe. Etrigan the Demon also presumably has masochistic tendencies. Penance has a superpower that requires pain on his part to work! When the flesh of Penance is raked with one of the 612 internal bolts in his suit, he can project explosive blasts from his body! OMG! Who comes up with these characters? Odin sacrificed his right eye to gain wisdom from Mimir as how to stop Ragnarök (Twilight of the Gods) in Thor #274 (August 1978).
35) Lead your adversary to chain together their warships. Stratagem on stratagems. Devise a set of interlocking stratagems to defeat them.
The Kingpin discovered Daredevil’s secret identity (Matt Murdock) in the born Born Again story arc. The Kingpin then launched several lines of attack at the same time. The Kingpin uses his influence to have the IRS freeze Murdock’s accounts. The Kingpin also has the bank foreclose on his apartment. Finally the Kingpin coerces police lieutenant Nicholas Manolis to testify that he saw Murdock pay a witness to perjure himself. The Kingpin overreaches himself when he blows up Daredevil’s house. At that moment Daredevil realizes the Kingpin is behind the attacks on Matt Murdock and must know his secret identity.
36) Retreat is the best option. If all else fails, run away.
Old Man Logan decides that when faced with a world that the super villains have taken over then it’s time to retreat to a little patch of land rather than get killed. Old Man Logan does eventually get around to fighting another day and killing all the villains! Supervillains run away from super heroes all the time but the reverse is rarely true. Even allowing supervillains the option of retreat is considered an unacceptable stratagem for super heroes. In Thunderstrike Vol 1, #2, the hero Thunderstrike allows the Juggernaut to just go away rather than having the city get destroyed in a fight and is later admonished by Captain America (Thunderstrike #4 ).
What is surprising upon the analysis of stratagems in comic books is how rarely stratagems are used by supervillains. If I was a supervillain fighting the likes of Superman and Thor then I would use every trick in the book. Even the criminal masterminds like Luthor, the Kingpin and Loki do not use stratagems all that much. My theory is that comic books are still largely a visual medium and it’s hard to “draw” a stratagem. A fist fight is more interesting visually than a stratagem. Also, the comic book writers may have a limited knowledge of stratagems. A systematic comparison of cons, ruses of war and stratagems might yield interesting and synergic results conceptually which in turn would have practical value in competitive situations.
This post will compare sidekicks of the DC and Marvel universes. Which universe has the best sidekicks? First of all, what is a sidekick? Wikipedia provides the following definition “A sidekick is a close companion who is generally regarded as subordinate to the one he accompanies”. Wikipedia in the same article expands on the functions of a sidekick “Sidekicks can provide one or multiple functions, such as a counterpoint to the hero, an alternate point of view, or knowledge, skills, or anything else the hero doesn’t have. They often function as comic relief, and/or the straight man to the hero’s comedic actions. A sidekick can also act as someone more relatable to the audience than the hero, or whom the audience can imagine themselves as being (such as teen sidekicks). And by asking questions of the hero, or giving the hero someone to talk to, the sidekick provides an opportunity for the author to provide exposition, thereby filling the same role as a Greek chorus”. A sidekick is not a villain’s henchmen or the romantic interest of a hero which is generally referred to as a companion.
The picture above got me thinking about sidekicks. The picture is from page 199 of the graphic novel Bizzaro Comics (2001). Bizzaro Comics is a hilarious collection of indie writers and artist’s parodies of DC comic titles. This picture is from the story titled Without You I’m Nothing and follows the travails of obscure discarded sidekicks. I am a comic book historian and do get a kick out of stories that use obscure characters like this story does. I was not able to identify all the side kicks in the picture but have a partial answer key at the end of this post. This post also attempts to provide definitive lists of sidekicks in the DC and Marvel universes and the Wikipedia definition was strictly adhered to. Many obscure characters that have not been included in prior lists of this nature have been included in this post. Below is a definitive list of DC sidekicks that will be discussed later.
List of DC Sidekicks
Aquagirl 1 (Lisa Morel)
Adventure Comics #266 (November, 1959)
Aquagirl 2 (Tula)
Aquaman (vol. 1) #33 (May-June 1967)
Adventure Comics #269 (February 1960)
Adventure Comics #229 (October 1956)
Aquaman (vol. 1) #1 (January-February 1962)
Ace the Bat Hound
Batman #92, June 1955
Alfred Pennyworth (Butler)
Batman #16 (April-May 1943
Bat-Girl (Bette Kane)
Batman #139 (April 1961)
Batgirl (Barbara Gordon)
Detective Comics #359 (January 1967)
Batgirl (Cassandra Cain)
Legends of the Dark Knight # 120 (August 1999)
Robin 1 (Dick Grayson)
Detective Comics #38 (April 1940)
Robin 2 (Jason Todd)
Batman #357 (March 1983)
Robin 3 (Tim Drake)
Batman #436 (August 1989)
Robin 4, Spoiler, Batgirl (Stephanie Brown)
Detective Comics #647 (August 1992)
Robin 5 (Damian Wayne)
Batman #655 (September 2006)
Robin Earth II (Richard Grayson)
Detective Comics #38 (April, 1940)
Lady Blackhawk (Zinda)
Blackhawk # 133 (February 1959)
Blue Devil #14 (July 1985)
Lobo #5 (May ’94)
Booster Gold (vol. 1) #1 (1986)
Captain Marvel Jr.
Whiz Comics #25 (December 1941)
Whiz Comics #21 (1941)
Mr. Tawky Tawny (Anthropomorphic Tiger)
Captain Marvel Adventures #79
Wow Comics #18 (October 1943)
Hooty the Owl
All-American Comics #25 (April, 1941)
Adventure Comics #308 (May 1963)
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #72 (October 1963)
Detective Comics #20 (October 1938)
Impulse (Bart Allen)
Flash (vol. 2) #92 (June 1994)
Kid Flash I (Wally West)
The Flash (vol. 1) #110 (December 1959)
Kid Flash II (Iris West)
Kingdom Come #3 (July 1996)
Kid Flash III (Bart Allen)
Teen Titans (vol. 3) #4 (December 2003)
Flash vol 2 #235 (February, 2008)
Ernie the Battling Boy
Justice League America # 46 (January 1991)
Amber Archer (Connor Hawke)
Green Arrow vol 2 #0 (October, 1994)
World’s Finest Comics #113 (November 1960)
Speedy I (Roy Harper)
More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941)
Speedy II (Mia Dearden)
Green Arrow (vol. 3) #44 (January 2005)
Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #6
All-American Comics #27 (June 1941)
Green Lantern (vol. 3) #129 (October 2000)
Thomas Kalmaku (Pieface)
Green Lantern (Vol. 2) #2 (September-October 1960)
Icon #1 (May 1993)
Black Lightning the Horse
Flash Comics #1 (January 1940)
The Batman Adventures #12 (September 1993)
Justice League of America
The Brave and the Bold #28 (February-March 1960)
Justice League International
G’nort (Green Lantern, Humanoid Dog)
Justice League International#10 (February, 1988)
Batman #62,(December 1950)
Little Boy Blue
Sensation Comics #1 (January, 1942)
Detective Comics #311 (January, 1963).
Pinky the Whiz Kid
Wow Comics #4 (1940)
Teen Titans vol. 3 #38 (September 2006)
Police Comics #13 (November 1942)
Flamebird (Mary Elizabeth Kane)
Teen Titans #50 (October, 1977)
Star-Spangled Comics #69 (June 1947)
The Sandman #1 (May 1974)
The Sandman #1 (May 1974)
Sandy the Golden Boy (Sandy Hawkins)
Adventure Comics # 69 (December 1941)
Showcase #15, (July 1958)
Strange Adventures #114 (March 1960)
Stripsey (Pat Dugan)
Action Comics #40 (September, 1941).
Superboy #86 (January 1961)
Comet the Super-Horse (Biron)
Action Comics #292 (1962)
Streaky the Super-Cat
Action Comics #292 (1962)
Bo “Bibbo” Bibbowski
Adventures of Superman #428 (May 1987)
Action Comics #6 (November 1938)
Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955)
Superman #123 (August 1958)
Dan the Dyna-Mite (Daniel Dunbar)
World’s Finest Comics #5 (Spring 1942)
Stuff the Chinatown Kid
Action Comics #45 (February 1942)
Sensation Comics #2 (Feb. 1942)
Wonder Girl 1 (Wonder Woman as a teenager)
All-Star Comics #8 (December 1941),
Wonder Girl 2 (Donna Troy)
The Brave and the Bold vol. 1 #60 (July 1965)
Wonder Woman #105 (April, 1959)
Robin wins the best DC sidekick prize easily. Robin is the first teenage super hero sidekick and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Robin has been flattered to death. DC went ahead and created an army of teenage sidekicks. Eventually the teenage sidekicks of the major superheroes founded a teenage sidekick version of the Justice League called the Teen Titans. The original Teen Titans included Aqualad, Kid Flash, Robin and Wondergirl. Later still, Young Justice is created. The Teen Titans and Young Justice meet in a giant sidekick crossover between their two groups.
The obvious absurdity of Robin is that crime fighting is dangerous work even for an adult like Batman and introducing a minor to crime fighting makes no sense whatsoever except as a plot device. Batman’s villains were obviously very aware that Robin was the weak link and Two-Face even referred to Robin as the boy hostage. The psychologist Fredric Wertham decided there was a homosexual subtext in the Batman and Robin relationship and wrote about this in Seduction of the Innocent. Batman goes through a whole slew of Robins and eventually one gets killed brutally by the Joker with a crow bar in a Death in the Family. Jason Todd is the lucky Robin to suffer death and the best part is that readers entered a poll to decide if he lived or died. Truly a low point in comic book history but a lot of Batman issues were sold so all in all the project was a success. Later Robin 4 (Stephanie Brown) in the identity of the Spoiler is even more brutally killed by the Black Mask with a power drill.
Of course no one really dies in comic books so Jason Todd return as the Red Hood and wants some payback from Batman for letting him die and secondly, and probably more importantly letting the Joker live. The five Robins all get starring roles after Batman “dies”. The ex-Robins have all become heroes in their own right. I would argue that the Red Hood is an antihero not a villain. Robin 1, Dick Grayson, has become Nightwing. Robin 3, Tim Drake, becomes Red Robin. Stephanie brown is resurrected from her power drill death and becomes Batgirl. The male Robins are all potential impersonators of the dead Batman. The Red Hood gets in the act and kind of forces Dick Grayson to become the new Batman because if he doesn’t then the Red Hood will assume the role. The potential heirs to Batman agree that the death of Batman should be hidden and one of them should pretend to be the original Batman. This is similar to the Phantom, the ghost who walks that has the son of the prior Phantom assume the role of the Phantom so as to give the illusion that the Phantom never dies. The Robins are basically sons of Batman but unfortunately there is more than one son i.e. more than one Robin and succession is not clear. This jockeying between the Robins is largely covered in the Batman miniseries Battle for the Cowl but this power struggle affected all Batman related titles of the last year. Dick Grayson does a good job impersonating Batman but doesn’t fool Commissioner Gordon. The new Batman of course needs a new Robin and gets a psychopath kid, due to being trained by the League of Assassins since childhood. This new Robin is the long lost son of Bruce Wayne and called Damian Wayne. Confused? Everyone is confused so don’t feel bad. I am sure the writers of the Batman lines have cheat cards on their desks. Will the barnacles of Batman history eventually sink the line? Maybe!
Robin and his teenage copies at DC and even Marvel have so dominated the sidekick market in comic books that readers tend not to look at the broader literary concept of a sidekick when looking at comic books. Another Batman sidekick is Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred provides an alternate point of view to the audience as well as the ability to aid Batman when he is hurt. Alfred has surgical skills gained when Alfred was an army medic. Alfred was also in the theater and can pretend to be Batman when needed. This is a rarely used skill of Alfred that is nevertheless crucial when someone is too close to discovering Batman’s identity. Robin is presumably too small to provide a similar function and anyway Robin needs to be by Batman’s side so people don’t think Robin is pretending to be Batman. Alfred Pennyworth can be extremely critical and sarcastic with Batman unlike the army of Robins. Alfred provides an “adult” perspective about Batman to the reader. Alfred has known Batman since he was a child. Alfred is aware of the how the killing of Batman’s parents made Batman a great crime fighter at the expense of a normal life. The Red Hood has argued with Batman that most of his hard core rogues gallery only fear death and the fact that Batman does not kill and the fact that the villains know this limits the effectiveness of Batman as a crime fighter. Batman may be able to instill fear in common criminals but provides more challenge than fear to the likes of the Joker. In Batman #647, Alfred actually agrees with the Red Hood mentally but does not express his views to Batman verbally.
Batman is a serial teenage sidekick mentor and there is something very creepy about this. Any “normal” person would not expose even one minor to extreme violence and certainly would not continue this behavior after the death of Jason Todd much less the subsequent death of Stephanie Brown. Alfred has expressed dismay about the use of teenage sidekicks many times to Batman. However, Alfred in the end is the dutiful butler who does what his master wishes despite any misgivings about such a course of action. Alfred’s subordination to Batman’s wishes despite sarcastic remarks is what makes Alfred a sidekick rather than an equal partner. Batman is not the only member of the Batman story line with a sidekick.
The Joker, Batman’s archenemy, has a sidekick! Villains generally do not have sidekicks but henchmen, minions or lackeys. Villains are generally egomaniacs and incapable of having long lasting meaningful relationships or so the theory goes. Villains see their henchmen as disposable cannon fodder. The Joker generally treats those around him in precisely this manner but there is one exception and that is Harley Quinn. Harley Quinn was a female psychiatrist that treated the Joker at Arkham Asylum and turned to the dark side rather than curing the Joker. Harley Quinn is in love with the Joker but the relationship has clearly never been consummated. The Joker obviously sees Harley Quinn as a capable sidekick even if Harley Quinn wants more. Harley Quinn is a near superhuman gymnast who uses her skill with great combat effectiveness. Harley Quinn wears a Jester outfit and became friends with Poison Ivy at Arkham were she ironically resided after her break down. Harley Quinn provides comic relief to Joker stories that despite the name of the Joker were not very funny before Harley Quinn showed up.
The Joker had been jealous of Batman having Robin as a sidekick in the silver age and got his own one-shot sidekick in Batman #186 called Gaggy. The main function of Gaggy was to provide comic relief to then Joker since such comic relief led to the Joker having great crime ideas. Gaggy rather simplistically hated Robin and managed to knock Robin out with a head butt to the stomach. Gaggy was never heard of after that one issue. I think an issue in which Gaggy, embittered by being discarded by the Joker, targets Harley Quinn for assassination might be interesting. Harley Quinn turns to Batman to figure out who is trying to kill her and clues are left that the culprit is a dwarf with a penchant for practical joke paraphernalia. Since not an awful lot of characters fit that description, Batman deduces that the culprit is Gaggy! Did I mention I like obscure comic book characters? Batman’s sidekicks on the whole do not provide comic relief. This is not the case of Captain Marvel.
Captain Marvel also has an army of sidekicks but largely for comic relief. Mr. Tawky Tawny is an anthropomorphic tiger i.e. a funny animal that gets into all sorts of silly trouble Captain Marvel can save the tiger from. Uncle Marvel is an older bumbling version of Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel was always a sillier line than his doppelganger Superman.
Flash is another serial sidekick character that has gone through three Kid Flash characters. Kid Flash was clearly inspired by Robin. Super speed is a major power that is very much underestimated in comic books. Basically you can hit the bad guy a hundred times and dodge whatever the bad guy tosses at you. “Realistically” the foes of the Flash should stand no chance against the Flash. Captain Cold has a freeze gun. The Flash should be able to dodge anything the cold gun can come up with. A teenager with super speed is still incredibly powerful despite being a teenager unlike Robin who has no super powers and even the inferior strength of someone who is younger. Maybe a Kid Flash can only punch with half the power of an adult but a hundred punches later and even the toughest boxer is going down.
Green Arrow has had two teenage sidekicks named Speedy. The first Speedy grows up to become a heroin addict, but recovers, and there is some suggestion that maybe crime fighting as a teenager might not be all that healthy psychologically and contributed to the heroin addiction.
Superman only has one teenage sidekick and that is Jimmy Olsen. In the silver age, Jimmy Olsen was officially Superman’s best pal and again very creepy if you think about it. Superman is perennially in his early thirties and if I saw some thirty year old hanging around a teen rather than a guy his own age then I would wonder exactly what function this teenager serves. Jimmy even has a watch with an ultrasonic signal that allows him to call Superman when he is in danger. Lois Lane does not have such a watch! Teenage guy gets the watch but not the gal? Maybe the silver age Superman had reasons for not marrying Lois Lane that had more to do with subconscious gender preference than any other reason.
Superman has a dog called Krypto. In the silver age, Batman got a dog called Ace but there is no comparison with Krypto and Ace in terms of importance. Superman in the silver age was Superboy and Krypto and Superboy were constant companions. This is one of the healthier sidekick relationships in comic books. Krypto cannot talk but can communicate to the reader via thought balloons that show what Krypto is thinking. Krypto’s attempts to understand Superboy’s behavior using canine logic were pretty cute and comical and one of the few things that made the otherwise lame Superboy title work.
The current Supergirl has no hyphen between “Super” and “Girl” in her name. The current Supergirl is a hot babe in a half shirt who has fled to the 31st century to avoid being a sidekick! The silver age Super-Girl, on the other hand, was very much a sidekick. She was teenager attending high school and was kept as a secret weapon for much of her silver age career. Super-Girl was Superman’s cousin so no fear of hanky-panky that would make her a companion. However, Super-Girl does try to match Superman up with an adult version of her on another planet!
Super-Girl has sidekicks in her own right! Super-Girl has a super cat named Streaky and a super horse named Comet. Somewhere in the Superman family there is a super monkey named Beppo but I am not really sure who he belongs to. All the super animals unite with Proty to create the Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st century. Years later Marvel will make its own group of superhero animal sidekicks. Proty is the sidekick of Chameleon Boy who is a member of the Legion of Super Heroes of the 31st century. Proty I sacrificed himself to revive the dead Lighting Lad but a Proty II soon shows up. Proty I and II are aliens that look like blobs and can mimic just about any form.
That leaves us with Wonder Women’s sidekicks. The silver age Woman had several sidekicks. Etta Candy was a fat rather stupid college student who was supposed to be used for comic relief but was more obnoxious than funny. The silver age Wonder Woman went through a rather silly phase in which she had adventures with herself as a Wonder Girl and Wonder Tot! Wonder Woman used Amazonian technology to create films of herself that showed “what if” adventures with her younger versions. I have to tell you I was maybe seven when a lot of these adventures came out originally and I was totally confused. I assumed Wonder Girl and Wonder Tot were sisters of Wonder Woman and didn’t find out the “truth” until I was in my thirties. Wonder Woman is probably one of those silver age titles that is really hard for modern readers to digest but the title had a fantasy quality that was very different from the more sci-fi quality of most silver age stuff and appealed to my young imagination. Wonder Woman may go down in literary history as the only character that had two versions of herself as her own sidekicks. The graphic novel Bizzaro Comics (2001) does have a story with Wonder Tot and Wonder Girl racing to sit next to Wonder Woman during lunch and destroying half the Amazon city in the process. Later, a more Robin like Wonder Girl was created as a sidekick.
Below is a list of Marvel sidekicks that will be discussed at the end of this list:
List of Marvel Sidekicks
Avengers, Iron Man
Edwin Jarvis (Butler)
Tales of Suspense #59 (Nov 1964)
Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941)
Bucky II (Rick Jones)
Captain America vol. 1 #431 (September 1994)
Jack Flag (Jack Harrison)
Captain America #434, (December 1994)
The Incredible Hulk Weekly #57 (April 1980)
Falcon (Sam “Snap” Wilson)
Captain America #117 (Sept. 1969)
Daredevil v1 #1 (April 1964)
Deadpool: The Circle Chase #1 (August 1993)
Deadpool #1 (Jan. 1997)
Bob, Agent of HYDRA
Cable & Deadpool #38 (May 2007)
Captain America vol. 1 #431 (September 1994)
Strange Tales #110 (Jul 1963)
Captain America #117 (Sept. 1969)
Fantastic Four #209 (August 1979)
Incredible Hulk v1 #131 (September, 1970)
Incredible Hulk v1 #6 (March 1963)
Hulk, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Avengers
Incredible Hulk v1 #1 (May 1962)
Human Torch Comics #2 (Fall 1940)
Fantastic Four #45, (December 1965)
Zabu (Sabertooth Tiger)
X-Men #10 (Mar 1965)
Franklin Richards (Son of Reed Richards & Susan Storm)
Fantastic Four Annual #6 (November 1968)
Fantastic Four, Franklin Richards
Valeria Richards (Daughter of Reed Richards & Susan Storm)
Fantastic Four vol. 3 #54 (June 2002)
Lockjaw Puppy (Dog)
Fantastic Four vol.3 #9.
Dum Dum Dugan
Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 (May 1963)
Lockheed (Small Dragon)
Uncanny X-Men #166 (Feb 1983)
Niels, Hairball (Cat)
Free Comic Book Day Spider-Man: Swing Shift (May 2007)
Ms. Lion (Dog)
Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends #1
Scarlet Spider 3 (Felicity Hardy)
Spider-Girl # 46
Taskmaster, Agent X
Taskmaster Mini-Series (2002)
Thing, Captain America
Demolition Man aka D-Man
Captain America #328 (April 1987)
Uncanny X-Men #244 (May, 1989)
Young Allies Comics 1941
The first sidekick on the list is Edwin Jarvis who is a butler at Avengers Mansion that in turn is owned and operated by Tony Stark. Tony Stark is of course Iron Man. Jarvis is an obvious clone of Alfred, Batman’s butler, but is much more one dimensional and provides comic relief rather than insight into the super heroes he deals with unlike Alfred. Alfred was a medic during a time of war and may be old but is obviously tough and handles sensitive Batman impersonation missions. Alfred would beat the crap out of Jarvis in any altercation.
Bucky is probably the most famous sidekick in the Marvel universe. Bucky is Captain America’s sidekick from the golden age that was killed in the golden age. In 2010, Bucky was resurrected after more than forty years just to make sure whatever faith readers had in comic book continuity was crushed once and for all so that suspension of disbelief via continuity would be rendered impossible once and for all. Comic sales are down way down. The recession and competition with other media are to blame but decisions like the Bucky resurrection don’t help. Anyway, Captain America is put into suspended animation minutes after Bucky is “blown up” and the guilt Captain America feels upon reawakening in the silver age is a major part of the Captain America story line. Captain America over the last forty years continually demonstrated how the trauma for the death of Bucky affected him mostly in the form of nightmares. Batman has never shown this level of trauma about the deaths of his Robins.
In the first silver age appearance of Captain America (Avengers vol. 1, #1) Captain America runs into a teenager he mistakes for Bucky, Rick Jones. Rick Jones is the side kick of the Hulk but this doesn’t stop him from later becoming Bucky II. The Hulk is not too pleased with this and this leads to altercations between Captain America and the Hulk. The Hulk has a point. Bruce Banner was exposed to gamma ray radiation while saving Rick Jones and became the monster called the Hulk because of Rick Jones. Yeah, Rick Jones owes his life to the Hulk’s alter ego but heck Captain America has wavy blonde hair and also is not a monster, literally, so Rick Jones decides to become Bucky II. Rick Jones is not a very loyal sidekick and becomes Captain Marvel’s sidekick later on. I guess Captain Marvel’s wavy silver hair beat Captain America’s wavy blonde hair. Rick Jones is currently a Hulk type called A-Bomb and is really digging not being a sidekick anymore despite having Hulk monster type problems. Captain America has had other sidekicks beside Bucky I and II including Jack Flag and Jackdraw. Heroes in both the DC and Marvel universe seem to either have slews of sidekicks or no sidekicks. Are sidekicks addictive? For the records there have been several Captain Americas with their Bucky sidekicks but I am only dealing with the Steve Rogers Captain America.
Foggy Nelson is a sidekick of Daredevil. Foggy Nelson is the law partner of Matt Murdock the alter ego of Daredevil. Foggy provided a great deal of comic belief in the beginning but has matured into a more competent brilliant lawyer that is an asset to Matt Murdock. Foggy has an incredible case law memory and might even superior to Matt Murdock as a lawyer but does not have the confidence of Matt and is therefore generally not the lead lawyer. Without Foggy, the law practice of Matt Murdock would have gone down the toilet during his many, Daredevil caused, MIA stints. Foggy Nelson has a paunch and food related jokes are his comic relief contribution.
Deadpool is a hilarious anti-hero that has had several equally hilarious sidekicks including Weasel, Blind Al and Bob, Agent of Hydra. My favorite is Bob, Agent of Hydra. Bob is a parody of henchmen and the number one lesson he learned from Hydra was “hiding behind each other”. Under pressure, Bob tends to shout “Hail Hydra”.
Doctor Strange has and adult Asian manservant from Tibet named Wong. Wong may not know much magic but he is a master martial artist. Wong is fairly subservient compared to other comic book sidekicks. If you do visit Doctor Strange at his Sanctum Santorum in New York then you have to get past Wong first. His role as a literal gatekeeper gives him some power that a lesser servant would not have.
Marvel decided to transform the son Reed Richards and Susan Storm from a typical omega level angst driven mutant to a Calvin type character, as in Calvin and Hobbes, character with great success. Franklin is a side kick to the Fantastic Four that provides a child’s perspective of the Fantastic Four as well as comic relief. Franklin is also a scientific genius who can modify his dad’s super science gadgets but generally his attempts to improve dad’s gadgets lead to disaster. Franklin has his own sidekick, H.E.R.B.I.E. the Robot. H.E.R.B.I.E. provides a logical to the point of absurdity perspective to the childish antics of Franklin. H.E.R.B.I.E. constantly tries to convince Franklin H.E.R.B.I.E. to leave his dad’s lab alone but he is ultimately a subordinate that is then forced to try to clean up the mess created by Franklin.
The Hulk got over the loss of Rick Jones and adopted Jim Wilson. Jim Wilson was an inner city, Black teenager that very poignantly died of cancer later. Doctor Strange has an Asian sidekick. The Hulk has an African-American sidekick. The Lone Ranger has a Native American sidekick, Tonto. Does anyone see a pattern here? My next post will be titled DC vs. Marvel: Multicultural Heroes and I will examine the issue of race in the DC and Marvel universes in detail.
In 2009, Marvel untied all the animal sidekicks into a team called the Pet Avengers. The Pet Avengers are a rip off of the Legion of Super Animals over at DC. The Legion of Super Pets was played straight and this was probably a bad decision given the absurdity of the concept. The Pet Avengers is a silly title with lots of comic relief and one of my favorite current titles. I am not sure how far you can go with this concept but so far so good. The members of the Pet Avengers include Redwing a hawk of Falcon, Lockjaw a giant dog that can teleport of the Inhumans, Zabu a saber tooth tiger of Ka-Zar, Lockheed a small dragon that is a sidekick of Shadowcat, Hairball a cat belonging to Speedball and Ms. Lion a dog belonging to Spider-Man. The team includes Throg is a frog with lesser versions of Thor’s powers and is not a sidekick of Thor but a hero among his frog tribe in his own right. The interplay between the animals is what really makes the team work. Krypto and Streaky were a dog and a cat in the same legion but the fact that dogs and cats don’t get along was never really explored. Hairball the cat thinks Ms. Lion is an absolute idiot and worse, a dog! Ms. Lion is the only one on the team that doesn’t have super powers is very much the pampered house dog of Spiderman’s Aunt May. Ms. Lion claims the right to membership based on her sidekick status alone.
The sidekick status of the members is highlighted in one story of Tails of the Pet Avengers: The Dogs of Summer #1. In the story titled“Garbage Grief”, Franklin Richards teams up with the Pet Avengers flanked with his own sidekicks H.E.R.B.I.E. and Puppy. Puppy is a miniature version of Lockjaw complete with his powers of teleportation. In this story Puppy does manage to teleport the Pet Avengers to deal with a giant humanoid garbage creature that Franklin created more or less accidentally. So this is a sidekick crossover albeit on a much smaller scale than the DC Teen Titans/Young Justice crossover. Another treat of this particular issue, is that the origin of Puppy is finally dealt with. Puppy has been a fixture of the Fantastic Four for a while but his origin has not been dealt with until this issue. Turns out Puppy is the grand pup of Lockjaw and is a present of Franklin’s future self to himself in the past. In another issue, Tails of the Pet Avengers #1 has an adventure with Redwing the hawk titled “Birds of a Different Feather”. Redwing the sidekick of Falcon is chased by a pigeon that wants to be a sidekick of Redwing. Redwing refuses this offer at first but the pigeon pulls a masterful guilt trip to change the mind of Redwing.
I also have to mention the Incredible Hercules that ran from 2008 to 2010. Hercules is teamed up with Amadeus Cho. Amadeus Cho is really smart, mutant level smart but Hercules is Hercules! Normally Amadeus Cho, the brainy, sixteen year old, nerdy teenager, would be the sidekick but an argument can be made that Hercules is the sidekick even if Hercules would smash anyone who suggested as much. In one issue Hercules is up against his old enemies the Amazons. Amadeus Cho is captured by the Amazonians. Amadeus Cho is referred to as the eromenos of Hercules (Incredible Hercules #121, 2008) by the Amazons during his captivity. Amadeus Cho is not happy with this appellation at all. This is one of the few issues that points out the obvious, when older men have sixteen year old guys as buddies then there is usually one sort of relationship at work going back to Greek times. This is an intelligent comic book line that turns the sidekick conventions upside down in an extremely funny manner.
The most famous teenage sidekick of Marvel is Bucky but Bucky is not nearly as important to comic book history as Robin. Probably getting killed in the golden age for plus forty years didn’t help the career of Bucky at all. Marvel has other teenage sidekicks like the golden age Toro but all and all Marvel does not have the rooster of well known teenage sidekicks that DC has. DC also wins in terms of teenage sidekick teams. DC has the aforementioned Teen Titans and Young Justice. Marvel has teenage teams including the Young Avengers and the Runaways but they are not sidekick teams but teams of teenage heroes. In many ways Marvel sidestepped the need for teenage sidekicks by making more teenage heroes than DC. Spiderman began his career in high school. The X-Men operate out of Xavier’s Academy which trains teenagers. The New Mutants are teenagers that go to Xavier’s Academy and are not sidekicks. I think overall Marvel may have been smart to make teenage heroes to fulfill many of the teen identification functions of teenage sidekicks.
DC just has a lot more sidekicks than Marvel period. DC has 71 sidekicks on their list. Marvel has 34 sidekicks on their list. Beyond numbers, DC has a rooster of more famous sidekicks especially in the teenage sidekick category. DC and Marvel have pursued different strategic approaches to the use of teenage sidekicks in their respective universes. Marvel, however, is doing great things with animal sidekicks with the Pet Avengers and funny sidekicks like Franklin Richards and H.E.R.B.I.E. Unfortunately, a two year trend does not negate the fact that DC has historically had the most and best sidekicks.
DC wins the sidekick wars!
Answer to DC Sidekick Quiz
3. Doiby Dickles
10. Mr. Twaky Tawny
12. Ace the Bat Hound
I do wonder if some of the sidekicks I can’t figure out are actual sidekicks in DC comics. Number 5 might be Streaky the Super Cat but looks more like a mouse than a cat.
This post will look at DC and Marvel heroes from their line of war comics. The DC heroes include Blackhawk, Boy Commandos, Captain Storm, Creature Commandos, Enemy Ace, G.I. Robot, Gunner & Sarge, Haunted Tank, Hunter’s Hellcats, Johnny Cloud, the Losers, Mademoiselle Marie, Red, White and Blue and Sgt. Rock of Easy Company. As I did in the DC vs. Marvel Western Heroes post (https://foxhugh.wordpress.com/2009/02/13/dc-vs-marvel-western-heroes/), I will pit the top three of the DC line against the top three of the Marvel line. The top three in terms of fame are Blackhawk, Enemy Ace and Sgt. Rock of Easy Company.
Blackhawk is the name of the leader of a free lance fighter pilot squadron and the name of their group. They wore an aviator type uniform, they first appeared in Military Comics and their missions were decidedly military in nature. Slowly but surely they became more like superheroes and started to fight more and more enemies with superpowers. The New Blackhawk era lasted from issues #228-241 and each member got his own superhero costume. The transition from military heroes to superheroes was abrupt. Later on the Blackhawk team returned to their military roots.
Enemy Ace is the story of a German flying ace during World War I. Enemy Ace first appeared in Our Army at War in 1965. Enemy Ace is, as the title suggests, the enemy but has a sense of chivalry and a sense of the horror of war that is universal. Enemy Ace is an antihero. I do see similarities between Enemy Ace and Jonah Hex. Both are none superhero genre heroes that succeed in large part due to their atypical, for comic books, antihero status which makes them more interesting. Like Jonah Hex, Enemy Ace was later used by the darker Vertigo imprint.
Sgt. Rock of Easy Company is probably the number one war hero of the DC line. Sgt. Rock first appeared in G.I. Combat (January, 1959). Sgt. Rock appeared in Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion in 2008. This is quite a run for a war hero in comic books. Sgt. Rock for most of his run had zero superhero elements. Sgt. Rock generally carries a 45 calibre Thompson submachine gun and a .45 calibre Colt M1911A1 automatic pistol. Sgt. Rock always carries a number of hand grenades that he can throw with great accuracy.
Later Sgt. Rock appeared in Brave and the Bold #84, #96, #108, #117, and #124 in decidedly superhero type adventures with Batman. This comic book tendency to reinvent war heroes and make them into superheroes is unfortunate. Alan Moore, In theTwilight of the Superheroes, (https://foxhugh.wordpress.com/non-fiction/twilight-of-the-superheroes-by-alan-moore/) points out that the juxtaposition of Sgt. Rock, for example, with the Legion of Superheroes is a bad idea and I agree. Let the war heroes be war heroes! Kanigher, the editor of Sgt. Rock, who created the majority of the Sgt. Rock stories, in a letter column in Sgt. Rock #374 stated that Sgt. Rock did not survive past 1945 effectively making the Brave and Bold Sgt. Rock stories null and void.
Marvel has a shorter list of war heroes that include Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos, Captain Savage and his Leathernecks, the characters in the The ‘Nam series, and the Phantom Eagle. The ‘Nam was an attempt to create a realistic war comic. The comic book happened in real time. A monthly issue more or less described what happened in a month in Vietnam. Nam related lingo was explained at the end of the comic book. The ‘Nam characters are too real and would not stand against a chance against other comic book war heroes that are slightly superhuman. The title became a less realistic comic book towards the end of its run with the introduction of Frank Castle who later becomes the Punisher.
The Punisher can be considered a war hero of sorts in that he was a soldier in Vietnam as detailed in The ‘Nam. The Punisher uses actual military weapons as detailed in The Punisher Armory. The Punisher also does not have super powers. On the other hand, the Punisher wears a costume and that is one of the defining characteristics of a superhero. Most of all the Punisher fights superhero type enemies between conflicts with organized crime. A high point of this sort of battle was the Punisher versus Doctor Doom story in Punisher #28. Doctor Doom is the premiere super villain of the Marvel universe who can take on entire super hero teams such as the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and the X-Men. The Punisher should have no chance against Doctor Doom at all yet he manages to blackmail Doctor Doom into leaving him alone. Only a superhero could do this. No one would argue that Batman is not a superhero despite his lack of superpowers. The Punisher can be seen as a very successful combination of superhero and war hero elements with an emphasis on superhero elements.
The star war hero of Marvel is Sgt. Fury who goes on to become a secret agent of SHIELD and is better known for this role than his war hero role. Sgt. Fury first appeared in his own title in May of 1963 and is very similar to DC’s Sgt. Rock and probably Sgt. Rock was a model for Sgt. Fury to some extent. Jack Kirby, who created DC’s Boy Commandos, mentioned in an interview that the Howling Commandos were adult versions of the Boy Commandos. Sgt. Fury is far more famous than all the other war heroes of both universes put together. Sgt. Fury was also much lighter fare than DC’s Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace. Sgt. Fury stories generally avoided the horror of war theme of the DC titles.
Captain America even shows up in Sgt. Fury #13! The cover of this issue is at the begining of this post. Captain America is created by the U.S. government and is described as a super soldier but is more super than soldier and does not even use military armament but instead throws an archaic shield. Later Nuke emerges from the same super soldier program and does use military hardware and is a Vietnam vet. Wolverine also comes from the same program providing some continuity to the Marvel universe but these super soldiers are clearly super heroes and not war heroes.
Fury is not some outlier of the Marvel universe but a character that is central to the Marvel universe. Marvel recently had an event labeled Civil War and Fury as the ex-head of SHIELD plays a pivotal role in this event that involved just about every title in the Marvel universe in 2008. Sgt. Fury logically fights his DC doppelganger Sgt. Rock. The other Marvel war heroes are obscure characters but will be drafted in this contest due to a lack of options.
The Phantom Eagle is a World War I ace that fights for the allies and logically is an opponent of the Enemy Ace. The Phantom Eagle had more super hero elements than the Enemy Ace including a mask that concealed his secret identity. The Phantom Eagle had worked in a flying circus prior to fighting in World War I and was a expert stunt flyer. The Phantom Eagle is also a very obscure character in the Marvel universe and someone who can describe this character really knows their Marvel universe history.
There is no equivalent to the Blackhawks in the Marvel universe. There is a perfect equivalent to Marvel’s Captain Savage and his Leathernecks in the form of DC’s Captain Storm. Captain Storm was a PT Boat Captain. Captain Storm lost his leg in combat and had the leg replaced with a wooden leg but stayed in active duty which would not happen in the actual military. Captain Storm actually had his own title in his very first adventure rather than having his adventures in one of the war anthologies before getting his own title later as was the custom at DC. Captain Storm appeared as late as 2003 in the Losers Special. The Losers were a collection of DC’s war heroes including Johnny Cloud and Gunner & Sarge.
Marvel’s Captain Savage originally was introduced in Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandos and the main mission of the Leathernecks was to ferry Sgt. Fury and his commandos around but eventually Captain Savage got his own title. Pitting a fighter squadron against an infantry squad hardly seems fair but pitting two Captains that are both involved in amphibious operations does make sense.
The first battle is between the two Sergeants. Sgt. Rock has a penchant for hand grenades that he throws with unerring accuracy. Sgt. Rock believes Sgt. Fury is a Nazi imposter and throws a grenade at Sgt. Rock and blows him to pieces. Sgt. Fury has a tendency to lose his shirt and run directly at heavily fortified positions with his submachine gun blazing rather than taking advantage of other weaponry such as grenades. Sgt. Fury seems to think he is invulnerable like a superhero! Sgt. Fury does not seem to know what cover is unlike Sgt. Rock.
In World War I, the Phantom Eagle and the Enemy Ace face off and the Phantom Eagle does all sorts of stunts that do not impress the Enemy Ace. The Phantom Eagle is shot down by the Enemy Ace while doing a loop. The Enemy Ace wonders why this fool of a pilot was wearing a mask and concludes the aviator was probably deranged due to the horrors of war.
Captain Storm and Captain Savage get into a bar fight as to whether the Navy or the Marines are better and Captain Savage punches Captain Storm. Captain Storm goes down because the wooden leg buckles. Captain Savage sees his opponent on the ground and notices the wooden leg. Captain Savage feels absolutely terrible. Captain Savage pulls up Captain Storm rather than finishing him off and apologizes to Captain Storm. Captain Savage buys Captain Storm a drink and the fight is a draw.
DC has two war titles that are very interesting from a genre point of view. The Haunted Tank is a tank that is haunted by Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart. The ghost is a good ghost and helps the leader of the tank crew out with omniscient but cryptic advice. I think this is the only comic book title that combines the supernatural and war genres. The Vertigo line resurrected the Haunted Tank years later.
The Creature Commandos appeared in Weird War Tales #93. Weird War Tales generally combined the war comic genre with another genre. The sister publication Weird Western Tales combined the Western genre with other genres. The idea was to have creatures that generally appear in horror and put them in war situations as commandos.
The original team consisted of J.A.K.E. and J.A.K.E. 2 that were the first and second GI Robot. Warren Griffith suffered from clinical lycanthropy i.e. he was a werewolf. Dr. Myrra Rhodes was effectively a gorgon. Lt. Matthew Shrieve is the team leader and totally human. Pvt. Elliot “Lucky” Taylor stepped on a land mine and put back together and looked like Frankenstein. Sgt. Vincent Velcro was the vampire of the team.
The modern team included Alten, a mummy like creature. The Bogman was an amphibian that resembled the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Gunner was a cyborg. Hunter is 75 and formerly of Hunter’s Hellcats. Medusa is Myrra Rhodes who has mutated even more. Pvt. Elliot “Lucky” Taylor returns and now called Patchwork. Sgt. Vincent Velcro has become even more vampire like. Warren Griffith, the werewolf, has become more feral and out of control in the modern team. This cross mixing of non-superhero genres is a hallmark of DC that Marvel never explored to the same extent.
The next post in this series is DC vs. Marvel War Heroes at: