Shared universes are the very fabric of modern comics. But sometimes, licensing issues make that a more complicated proposition. Welcome to Ten Things: Ten Disavowed Marvel Characters!
Whooshman-Bicarbonate Films, in conjunction with An Amateur Comics Historian and Conan, the recently-returned Barbarian, Presents:
TEN THINGS: TEN DISAVOWED MARVEL CHARACTERS!
10) NFL SUPERPRO
A number one draft pick, Phil Grayson was badly injured in training camp and spent an extended period in rehab. Thanks to a uniform made of special plastic from the 70s, Phil is able to tackle crime in more than just the figurative sense, fighting for 13 issues circa 1991. SuperPro’s adventures failed to weld sports and comics successfully, and when the licensing deal ended, the National Football League no longer allowed Marvel to use their logo and name. Some years later, Robert Kirkman (who loves everything 90s) requested permission to revive the character, but the NFL wasn’t interested, leaving a random dialogue snippet in an issue of Marvel Team-Up his only “appearance” since ’92.
He’s also one of those rare super-types whose name can be satisfyingly sung to the tune of ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar.’ So that’s something.
9) DOC SAVAGE
The success of their shared universe concept was Marvel’s secret weapon during Silver Age, giving their books a sense of realism that they believed their competitors were lacking. Thus, as they began licensing characters from other companies in the 70s, Marvel editorial chose to fold them into the Marvel Universe. Conan is the best-known example, but the 70s also gave us Marvel’s version of Clark Savage, Jr. Not only did Doc Savage exist in the 616 reality but his adventures took place in the modern day! The Man of Bronze even appeared in Marvel Two-In-One (where The Thing noted that Doc was one of his heroes growing up) and Marvel Team-Upvbefore transitioning to Marvel’s black-and-white magazine line for the remainder of his six-year run at the House of Ideas. During that time, he faced the villain Blacksun, who reappeared later in the Project Pegasus saga and ‘Squadron Supreme’, leading to some veiled references “an adventurer” who aided The Thing in Blacksun’s first appearance.
8) THE TRANSFORMERS
When The Transformers debuted in 1984, it wasn’t yet clear that Marvel had a massive hiton their hands and so Marvel used a standard practice of the Jim Shooter era to bolster sales: The Third-Issue Spider-Man Team-Up™! T Web-Head faced down with Megatron and gave what wrestlers refer to as The Rub to minor Autobot Gears, cementing that not all giant robots were menaces. Issue #64 of the Transformers explicitly states that the Marvel and Transformers universes were heretofore separate and distinct, leading to the creation of Earth-91274, also the home of G.I. Joe, whose comic was likewise inconsistently part and NOT part of the Marvel Universe.
Don’t even try to get me to explain how Circuit Breaker’s history works.
7) THE MICRONAUTS
Another licensed property based on a toyline, the heroes of Homeworld were explained to exist in the Microverse, a region of space/time that had previously debuted in Fantastic Four. Remarkably popular, the Micronauts had their own series for several years and were one of the titles that Marvel chose to pilot the then-brand-new direct sales outlets, i.e. “comic shops.” Since many of the characters and concepts were created by writer Bill Mantlo, and thus Marvel property, team has continued to appear sporadically without their copyrighted name. Bug notably had a run with the Guardians of the Galaxy in the 2000s, while the rest of the team has been going by either The Microns or Enigma Force (which is actually a superior name.)
They don’t always dress like X-Men, is what I’m saying.
6) THE HUMAN FLY
The 1970s were a time of real-world daredevils, thanks in part to the example of Evel Knievel, which is where stuntman Rick Rojatt (which may or may not be his real name, reports vary) comes in. Donning a red suit, the real Human Fly made a name for himself standing atop a jet plane at 300 miles per hour, which somehow led to an ongoing series at Marvel Comics. Billed as “the wildest superhero ever, because he’s REAL”, the comic gave him sorta/kinda super-powers in the form of steel skeletal implants from his many injuries, and clearly took place in the Marvel Universe, thanks to his crossovers with Spider-Man, Ghost Rider and The White Tiger. Aside from a 2015 cover appearance (that never actually made it to print), The Human Fly has been persona non grata at Marvel since his cancellation.
5) METEOR MAN
The hero of a criminally underrated 1993 superhero film, Jefferson Reed also received the obligatory Third-Issue Spider-Man Team-Up™ in his subsequent Marvel series. Night Thrasher also reared his helmeted head before the book ended with issue #6, and as of this writing, none of the events of the book have ever been officially relegated by Marvel to an alternate Earth. M-Man’s adventures lost some of their charm without the music (“AIN’T NOBODY BAD LIIIIKE…”) and the affable mannerisms of Robert Townsend, though, leaving the miniseries as pretty standard 90s Marvel fare.
That’s a real bummer.
4) RED SONJA
Though bearing a similar name to a Robert E. Howard character, Red Sonja was created by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith during Conan The Barbarian’s run at Marvel in the 1970s. Under the terms of the licensing agreement, though, she became property of Red Sonja, LLC, and is currently licensed to Dynamite Entertainment for comic appearances. As such, the times that she crossed over with Spider-Man (possessing Mary Jane Watson, as seen above) or became Wolverine’s mate in a very distasteful ‘What If?’ issue are no longer referenced in continuity.
If you ever buy a copy of Stan Lee’s ‘The Superhero Women’, though, you’ll see Sonja in all her bikinified glory, next to the Invisible Woman, Ms. Marvel and the Black Widow.
3) SHOGUN WARRIORS
Though appearing in Marvel Comics as a team circa 1979, Raydeen (Brave Raideen), Combatra (Chōdenji Robo Combattler V) and Danguard Ace (Wakusei Robo Danguard Ace) were the heroes of three separate cartoon/anime series in Japan. Licensed to Mattel for their toyline (a recurring them at Marvel in the 70s and 80s), each robot was given a pilot with a cool back story, all of whom have appeared sporadically in comics since. Not so the robots themselves, who were destroyed in an issue of Fantastic Four and never referenced again. I guess we’ll always have Red Ronin, though.
Up from the depths, thirty stories hiiiigh! Breathing his head in the SKYYYY! GODZILLAAAA! A year or two before the Shoguns (in whose toyline he actually appeared, I might add), the King of Monsters popped up in the Marvel Universe for the occasional chaotic explosion-times. Probably the most important part of his series was the return of Jimmy Woo, one of Marvel’s earliest Asian characters, to a starring role, but his solo series featured not only regular appearances by SHIELD, but battle with the Champions of Los Angeles and a Henry Pym shrinking gas attack that reduced Godzilla to pet-size. Unlike many of the characters on this list, though, Godzilla is still extant in the Marvel Universe in a mutated form, and a clone of him called Leviathan has battled the X-Men.
1) ROM, SPACEKNIGHT
Oh, ROM. So many stories lost, like tears in rain… Springing from the mind of Bill Mantlo, loosely based on a legendary failure of a toy from Parker Brothers, the Spaceknight from Galador enjoyed a seven-year run at Marvel, tying deeply into the back story of the Marvel U. With dozens of crossover moments ranging from Doctor Strange to Shang-Chi to Forge of the X-Men, his absence from official records of the early 80s at Marvel comics makes him without question the most noteworthy missing person on this list. The character himself has appeared as recently as the 2000s (he also appears in human form during the alternate-reality events of Earth/Universe/Paradise X, trapped in limbo and using his old chest-plate as a shield) but is carefully never named.
This week’s topic is all me, thanks to my 80s upbringing (and yes, complete runs of nearly all of these books are in my collection), but feel free to follow along @MightyKingCobra for more Ten Things madness on Twitter. O check out the full Twitter archive here! As with any set of like items, these aren’t meant to be hard and fast or absolutely complete, if only because someone, someday is going to be nostalgic as hell for those Axe Body Spray superheroes. Either way, the comments section is Below for just such an emergency, but, as always: Please, no wagering!