Superhero naming can be a complex thing, especially when more than one character uses the same name. But what about more than one concept? Welcome to Ten Things: The Hero Or The Team?
Whooshman-Bicarbonate Films, in conjunction with An Amateur Comics Historian and Captain Nomenclature, Presents:
TEN THINGS: THE HERO OR THE TEAM?
10) THE AVENGER or THE AVENGERS?
After the death of his brother at the hands of international spies, scientist Roger Wright dedicated his considerable fortune to the cause of justice. With a costume made by his girlfriend and an arsenal of weapons that he either designed or had designed, The Avenger thwarted the plans of evil communist agents for four issues. His 1955 debut makes him just a tiny bit early for The Silver Age of Comics that was about to bust out, and the audience just wasn’t there, causing Magazine Enterprises to cancel his book after just four issues.
At some point in the 1980s, The Avengers eclipsed the Fantastic Four as the primary super-team of the Marvel Universe, battling the threats that no one else could face. With a membership that seems to include the majority of Marvel heroes, the team is also the nexus of the billion-dollar Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. As the team enters its sixtieth year, their record of success speaks for itself, as they have protected not only the Earth, but outer space, the timestream, and the multiverse itself! Not bad for a team whose entire membership once consisted of three former villains and a World War II veteran.
9) THE CRUSADER or THE CRUSADERS?
An extremely minor vigilante hero of DC’s Earth-1 era, Don Powers was rejected from the Justice League due to his violent tendencies. Because of his extremely poor vision, The Crusader could only operate during daylight hours, leading him to launch a satellite into space providing light 24 hours a day, hampering crime, but causing a terrible algae build-up that nearly killed everyone. The Crusader died when he tripped on a wire and fell to his death, a victim of his own waning vision.
Nearly every iteration of Archie/MLJ Comics heroes has had a team known as The Mighty Crusaders. The Impact era of the 1990s was no exception, assembling The Shield, The Fly, The Jaguar, Fireball, The Black Hood, The Comet, and an agent of the government’s espionage agency, The Web to battle an alien invasion. When the entire publishing line was restructured, several of the heroes were lost on another world and left for dead. They later returned, just in time for the cancellation of Impact and another retirement of Archie’s superhero properties.
8) ALLY or THE ALLIES
The quintessential nerd, Troy Manchester was accidentally exposed to a machine invented by his father, which gave him the ability to transform himself into “bio-digital energy.” In that form, he can fly, manipulate light and energy, control any electrical or electronic device, and even create structures out of “hard light.” Though still a rookie and an impulsive teen, Ally is determined to be the best hero that he can be.
A Silver Age-inspired super-team from the pages of Supreme, The Allies (formally known as the Allied Supermen of America) include Mighty Man, Die-Hard, Super-Patriot, and Glory, all of whom come from different corners of the original Image Comics universe. Rounding out their JLA-inspired antics are characters like Spacehunter and The Fisherman, allowing Alan Moore to homage Superman’s adventures with the League, as part of a broad pastiche of Superman’s decades of adventure.
7) THE ACTIONEER or THE ACTIONEERS?
The only appearance of The Actioneer, as far as I can tell, is in an issue of Who’s Who in the Impact Comics Universe, as a background element of a profile of a superhero enthusiast named Tom Sickler. Using only the information in that image, and a little bit of deductive reasoning, we can assume that he was one of Tom’s subjects of interest, possibly a two-fisted adventurer in the vein of The Shadow or The Phantom. It’s unknown whether he was a real or a fictional character in-universe, and the aforementioned cancellation of Impact Comics meant that his deal, if he even had one, was never revealed.
A super team from the pages of The Astonishing Wolf-Man, The Actioneers were led by the hero, Kinetic. They are perhaps best remembered for being bitten and mentally controlled by the vampire, Zachariah, making for a shocking reveal AND the near-death of the hero. If I recall correctly, they were freed from their magical transformations, but that’s always true when you kill the head vampire, according to Edgar Frog.
6) THE CHALLENGER or THE CHALLENGERS?
An unusual hero whose focus was not on crime, but instead on fighting prejudice in post-war America, Bill Day was dismayed to find fascism spreading at home after returning from World War II. He even has his own group, the Challenger Club, to help spread the word and support tolerance, unionization of working folks, as well as fighting those who would spread hate. It’s a shame he hasn’t been seen since 1946, because he is the hero that 2023 desperately needs.
After surviving what should have been a fatal plane crash, four men (wrestler Rocky Davis, fighter pilot Ace Morgan, acrobat Red Ryan, and skin-diver Prof Haley) declared that they were living on borrowed time, and vowed to make their remaining days matter. Gathering together as The Challengers (formally The Challengers of the Unknown), they adventured around the world in the days before the Earth-1 concept had fully congealed, facing aliens, magicians, and more as they traveled. Some see them as prototypes for Jack Kirby’s later creations, the Fantastic Four. (The red-and-yellow costumes seen here were only seen in reprints of the Challs’ early adventures, featuring the fascinating team of Kirby penciling, with inks by Wally Wood.)
5) MINUTE-MAN or THE MINUTEMEN?
While battling the alien Agamemno and some of their worst villains, the Justice League of America made use of Robby Reed’s H-Dial to dial up new, unexpected superhero identities. Bruce “Batman” Wayne became the time-manipulating Minute-Man, whose powers allowed the heroes to overcome power rings provided by the alien villain.
A team of costumed mystery men assembled by Captain Metropolis, The Minutemen didn’t seem to have that many adventures together during their career. It was at a Minutemen meeting that Eddie “The Comedian” Blake sexually assaulted Sally “Silk Spectre” Jupiter, which eventually led to them having at least one more tryst that produced a daughter, the second Silk Spectre. Readers of Before Watchmen were treated to a couple of adventures that don’t seem to fit at ALL with what we saw of the heroes in the pages of Watchmen, but are nonetheless pretty interesting (if very traditional) superhero tales.
4) PEACEMAKER or THE PEACEMAKERS?
The man who loves peace so much, he’s willing to fight for it, Christopher Smith is dead-center in the middle of a Venn diagram where the circles are “fascist”, “super-patriot”, and “complete idiot.” A member of The Suicide Squad, AKA Task Force X, Peacemaker has most recently been working for the U.S. government to capture renegade metahumans triggered by the Lazarus Planet crisis. He is 100% inspired by the movie/TV version, portrayed by wrestler John Cena.
The premiere super-team of the world of Edison Rex, The Peacemakers were assembled to stave off an alien invasion. Featuring several analogs of popular supers (Valiant for Super, Eclipse for Batman, etc.), The Peacemakers are notable for having all their members (indeed, all the superhumans of their world) named after defunct comic book publishing companies, a feat that is both impressive and a little scary.
3) ULTRAMAN or THE ULTRA-MEN?
A lineage of tokusatsu (“live-action”) superheroes dating back to 1966, the Ultra Series featured literally dozens of various heroes known as Ultraman. Ultraman Ace begat Ultraman Taro, which led to Ultraman 80, and eventually Ultra Force. My favorite of the Ultraman characters, Ultraman Beth is Beth O’Brien, the first member of the Ultra Force to appear. An ace pilot when she’s not a giant silver superhero, Beth works with Ultraman Chuck and Ultraman Scott to protect the Earth from all manner of threats. While not the first female Ultra, Beth (also retroactively known as Ultrawoman Beth) is the first high-profile lady Ultra, and the first to get her own transformation sequence.
Seen precisely once circa 1966, the trio of The Web, The Fox, and Captain Flag are The Ultra-Men, allies of a different iteration of the Mighty Crusaders than the one I was just talking about. Showing up once during a story called Too Many Super Heroes, they and their colleagues prove the title to be literally true both in-universe and out. Though all three of these heroes have been revamped since (some more than once), their sub-team has never re-emerged to fight the three super-villains that Archie Comics remembers that they own.
2) DARKSTAR or THE DARKSTARS?
A Russian mutant who originated with the Soviet Super-Soldiers, Laynia Petrovna defected to the West to live with her boyfriend Iceman. She served as a member of The Champions, a short-lived super-team from Los Angeles, eventually returning home to Mother Russia and the arms of her ever-shifting old team. Darkstar has a tendency to die, then have people forget she died and return, making for an appropriate nesting doll of retcons to explain her continued existence.
An alien police force in the DC Universe, the Darkstars were founded by The Controllers, rivals of the Guardians of the Universe. Designed to serve as a counterpoint to the Guardians’ Green Lantern Corps, The Darkstars have mostly served to be wiped out, then revived, only to be wiped out again. The best-known Darkstar who wasn’t previously an extant superhero is probably Ferrin Colos, seen in shadow above, but their ranks have also included Donna “no longer Wonder Girl” Troy, John “not a Green Lantern right now” Stewart, and many of the Omega Men. A number of disenfranchised Green Lanterns who lost their gigs due to Emerald Twilight joined the ‘Stars in the ’90s, but nearly all have been returned to GL status and/or murdered.
1) THE DEFENDER or THE DEFENDERS?
After years of jousting with his nemesis, Superman, Lex Luthor finally proposed a fair fight, man-to-man, under a red sun. What he got instead was a home away from home, as the people of the planet revered him as hero and leader. Redubbing the world Lexor, they even used their ancient devices to give Lex super-powers. Calling himself The Defender, Luthor faced the “villainous” Superman, but eventually had to learn to work with his enemy to save all Lexor.
Assembled by Doctor Strange to stop an alien invasion, the team known as The Defenders has been home for a lot of Marvel’s most unconventional heroes. Even those not used to teamwork, like the Sub-Mariner and the Silver Surfer, found a place in the ranks of the non-team. It’s a real shame that nobody at Marvel Comics seems to remember that they ever existed, much less that they fought threats mystical, alien, and mundane for more than a decade.
Once again, this week’s topic, ‘The Hero Or The Team?’ is all me, but feel free to follow along @MightyKingCobra to suggest a topic of your own! There’s always more Ten Things madness on my Twitter or 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, but until we get a team called the Boosters Gold, it just might be. Either way, the comments section is below for just such an emergency, but, as always: Please, no wagering!