In Defense Of…The Defenders!
Both in the comics and on the sliver screen, it’s the marquee superhero teams who tend to get all the glory and attention: The Avengers, The Justice League, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, and a handful of other big-game franchises.
After all, it’s the celebrity heroes whom audiences want to see (well, and also The Guardians of the Galaxy). But this week, the Defenders—one of Marvel Comics’ oldest, least appreciated, and all-around weirdest superhero teams—finally gets its turn in the television spotlight. It took more than sixty episodes spread across four different shows to bring the Defenders from the comic page to its own 8-episode Netflix series, but the Defenders are finally getting their due.
Posted by Jon Morris
Wintry Warriors and Chilly Villains
It’s hot. Summer this year has been blazing, and it has undoubtedly left millions dreaming of cool water, air conditioning, and ice cream scoops the size of a human head.
Or the power to produce freezing temperatures with the wave of a hand, perhaps! Comics are rife with cool characters blessed with the power to beat the heat with a well-placed freeze ray or ice blast. Colorful characters like Mister Freeze, Killer Frost, Captain Cold and Iceman are common – and even familiar – sights in superhero media. But some other chilly villains and wintry warriors have a profile as low as the temperature outside is high.
Posted by Jon Morris
Teachers in Comic Books
Superheroics are more than just jumping around rooftops and punching spandex baddies right in the mush – sometimes it requires education! Here’s a short list of just some of the superheroes who’ve made crimefighting a sideline to their teaching careers, or made their teaching career essential to their crimefighting!
Created by:Jack Ryan
Debuted in: Bang-Up Comics vol.1 #1 (Progressive, 1941)
Teaching isn’t all glamour – in fact, it’s very little glamour at all. Perhaps that’s why mild-mannered elementary school teacher Mary Lee occasionally takes advantage of her students’ study time to slip out into the crime-filled world outside the schoolhouse walls as the “goddess of chastisement and dreaded foe of the underworld,” Lady Fairplay!
Granted amazing powers by the mysterious “Professor Amazo,” Mary finds herself possessed of tremendous strength, speed and endurance after a mysterious scientific procedure – and a swell car as well, also provided by the professor and outfitted with “everything but the kitchen sink.” Here’s hoping Lady Fairplay never runs into a crook whose sole weakness is porcelain.
Created by: Russ Manning
Debuted in: Magnus, Robot Fighter 4000 A.D. #1 (Gold Key Comics, 1963)
By the 1960s, domestic automation had become the next big buzzword in American technology. Films, comics and even model homes provided examples of the “House of the Future,” a fully-automated edifice populated by specialized service robots. Effectively being robot servants, these technologies would be designed to handle everything from cooking dinner to waxing the floors to walking the dog and tucking the kids into bed at night.
For some, the promise of home automation meant the liberation from household drudgery. The new-found freedom from housework would allow homemakers to pursue their careers, education, or whatever other pastime beckoned to them in their now-generous free time.
For others, however, this automation presaged a grim future of lazy, helpless humans completely dominated by their robot servants. It was from this future-dread that Magnus, Robot Fighter, was born! A muscular machine-buster from the year 4,000 AD, Magnus made a career out of clobbering the cogs out of robot menaces and android overlords which threatened the fully-automated world of the 41st century, and all of its citizens, pampered to the point of immobility.
Magnus didn’t learn his robot-fighting all by himself, though! Nope, that was the purview of techno-traitor 1A, a highly-advanced robot whose human-like emotions also made him dread an unchallenged rule of the robots. Having been raised by 1A since infancy, Magnus learned from his foster-father-bot all the destructive arts necessary to demolish evil robots, wherever they may rear their ugly diodes.
The Super-Teacher from Krypton
Created by: Edmond Hamilton and John Sikela
Debuted in: Adventure Comics vol.1 #240 (DC Comics, 1957)
Speaking of robot teachers, few characters in the relatively tame world of the Superman mythos enjoyed quite the controversial conclusion to their careers as did The Super-Teacher from Krypton.
Prior to the destruction of Superman’s homeworld, the Man of Steel’s father Jor-El – anticipating that his son would develop super-powers once he landed safely upon Earth – designed and built a special robot teacher. Its purpose would be to train the young orphan in the use of his tremendous new abilities, but the chaos surrounding the destruction of the distant planet meant that the Robot Teacher’s arrival would be long delayed. It wouldn’t make the trip to the Last Son of Krypton’s adopted world until long after he’d begun his career as Superboy.
The Super-Teacher’s assignments for the young superhero generally tested his intellect and moral compass, more than his burgeoning powers. These are good tests for the youngster who will one day be the greatest superhero in the entire universe, but the Super-Teacher’s sense of right and wrong could have used some tweaking.
In his final appearance in 1977, Super-Teacher entered the canon’s infamy when it abducted and brainwashed a teenage girl (without Superboy’s knowledge, it’s worth mentioning). Super-Teacher then temporarily replaced her personality with one custom-generated to fit the profile of Superboy’s one true love, so as to test the Boy of Steel’s code against killing when strange creatures seemingly murdered her with a hefted stone.
Ethical lines were crossed with terrible gusto in that final tale, making the Super-Teacher’s absence from any subsequent story a genuine blessing, indeed.
Created by:Julius Schwartz, Gardner Fox and Gil Kane
Debuted in: Showcase vol.1 No.34 (DC Comics, 1961)
No professor has quite mastered the art of the field trip like Ray Palmer. Physicist and college professor Ray Palmer, in fact, wouldn’t even have the super-powers of the mighty, miniscule Atom had he not accidentally stumbled across a piece of “white dwarf star matter” during a spelunking expedition with his students. Fashioning the celestial matter into a lens, Palmer discovers that he can change his size and the size of certain objects (for a brief amount of time – inanimate objects tend to explode if they’re left shrunk for too long), leading him to a crimefighting career as The Atom!
Although the university at which Ray Palmer taught physics was frequently only the setting for some of the Atom’s adventures, it did eventually produce his successor (albeit temporarily). Graduate student Ryan Choi proves just as brilliant as his mentor when it comes to the questionable physics of the white dwarf star matter, and takes up the identity of the Atom when Palmer retires from the superheroing game. It must be a wonderful feeling to watch a promising student carry on your life’s work.
Created by: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Debuted in: The X-Men vol.1 No.1 (September 1963)
Probably no educational figure in the history of comics carries quite the cachet of gravitas as does Charles Francis Xavier, the telepathic leader of the Uncanny X-Men.
Appearing alongside the original roster of the mutant X-Men, Professor X was never just a mentor and booster; he participated in the action as well. Possessing what might be the most powerful psionic mind on the entire planet, Xavier has not only battled some of the greatest menaces of the Marvel Universe, but he’s even an adventurer in his own right. Outside of his X-Men adventures, Xavier boasting a bushel of love interests, a powerful rogues gallery (including, just to name a few, his old pal Magneto, his mega-powerful half-brother The Juggernaut, and equally powerful psionic rival The Shadow King), and a series of adventures which has taken him around the world, into the astral plane and to distant galactic empires.
But the most impressive quality possessed by Professor X is his dedication to the dream of peace and good will between the human and mutant races. Training young mutants to use their strange, new abilities at his School for Gifted Youngsters in Westchester, New York, Xavier has saved the lives and the futures of the literally hundreds of students who have passed through its doors.
Moreso, he’s ensured his legacy in the best way a teacher can – inspiring his former students to become teachers, themselves. The assorted mutant academies of the Marvel Universe have seen classes hosted by assorted X-Men such as Hank McCoy (The Beast), Ororo Munroe (Storm), Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat) and even the once-feral, stab-happy Wolverine!
Posted by Jon Morris
Bat Appreciation Day (Why Batman is Great)
It’s Bat Appreciation Day today, and what better time to celebrate America’s favorite bat-like costumed crimefighter, Batman! What makes Batman so appealing? What is it that keeps him forever in the justice-seeking hearts of millions of fans world-wide? Well, your individual bat-mileage may vary, but here are just a few things that keep Batman at the top of the belfry…
Posted by Jon Morris
THE PENGUIN’S GREATEST UMBRELLAS
February 10 is National Umbrella Day, and what better way to commemorate the occasion than to admire a few of the most unusual umbrellas, pernicious parasols, and baleful bumbershoots ever used by that Blackbird of Banditry, Gotham City's Man of A Thousand Umbrellas, The Penguin!
Posted by Jon Morris
Ant-Man Unavailable? Call on These Tiny Superheroes Instead
Diminutive do-gooder Ant-Man hits the silver screen this weekend, making him the smallest superhero yet to carry a feature film (and that includes Dustin Hoffman's performance as Rain Man). But if Ant-Man’s suddenly too busy to pick up the superhero hotline, don't worry. He's far from the only economy-sized powerhouse to take up the tiny cause of justice. In fact, he’s not even the first! Comics have a long history of super-small heroes. Some, like DC’s Atom and various friends and alternate identities of Marvel’s Ant-Man (The Wasp, Yellowjacket, various other Ant-Men), are fairly well-known by today’s comics fans. But many others never grew an audience that outsized their stature. So let’s meet a few forgotten mini-marvels, some of the tiniest titans to have ever battled evil.
Posted by Jon Morris