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11 Comic Book Superpowers The World Could Do Without

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From rainbow breath to incredible weight gain via donuts.

1. The Power to Eat Things

If you're desperate for heroes with mediocre superpowers, look no further than the Legion of Super-Heroes, the 30th-century superhero squad that started out in 1958. Packed with uninspiring members, the legion featured the likes of Bouncing Boy (who could bounce around like a ball), Chlorophyll Kid (who could make plants grow faster) and Dream Girl (who could tell the future through dreams). But the strangest of all was Matter-Eater Lad, who just ate things. Matter-Eater Lad's finest moment was stopping an indestructible machine from destroying the universe by eating it. The storylines were that good. In 1993, DC Comics decided that the character was too silly for the newer, grittier style of comics, and he was rewritten as the Legion's personal chef, who didn't really get involved in the combat.

2. The Power of Having Eyes on Your Fingers

Batman Wiki

Ten-Eyed Man was a Batman villain with, uh, ten eyes. He was blinded in an accident, but had a sinister doctor attach optic nerves to his fingers. When imprisoned, the police put his hands in a box so he couldn't see. This was very effective in preventing his escape. This super-villain concept was revived with the second Ten-Eyed Man, but he was eventually felled when Batman poured hot oil on his hands, which blinded him.

3. The Power to Talk Loudly

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If Black Bolt told a joke, he'd bring the house down. Of course, if he said anything at all, he'd bring the house down. As King of the Inhumans, a mysterious super race based on the moon, Black Bolt packs a great set of lungs. So great, in fact, that he causes utter destruction with his "quasi-sonic" scream, even with the faintest whisper. As a result, the soft-spoken superhero usually keeps quiet, speaking only when he needs to destroy things. While it might seem like an inconvenient power, old Bolty doesn't seem to mind. When he isn't occupied with superheroics, he quietly rules his kingdom with his wife, Medusa, who no doubt can't believe her luck: a husband who won't talk back! The books have yet to reveal what happens when he gets the hiccups.

4. Detachable Body Parts

Since the 1940s, there have been no less than seven superheroes called Captain Marvel. But the strangest might be the one briefly published by M.F. Publications in 1966. As a robotic superhero, Captain Marvel could will his body parts in different directions, just by yelling the command: "Split!" This allowed him to fight numerous villains in various locations all at once. His feet would separate and karate kick evil-doers, while his left and right hands would be jabbing and punching in different parts of the room. Presumably, he could also use his torso to hip-check villains, Black Knight-style. It was never really made clear how any villain worth their salt could be overcome by a disembodied finger or foot—and since the comic hasn't been published for over 40 years, we'll probably never know. Although robot Captain Marvel is the least famous of the Captains Marvels, he hasn't been forgotten. Some readers view the books as camp classics.

5. Rainbow Breath

DC Wikia

Admittedly, I have no idea what this does, but according to the text—when used with other powers like "X-ray strength", "speed-squared" and "shame-vision"—it's "enough to topple most 21st century Western economies." Maybe, but the Lucky Charmed halitosis still sounds pretty dumb. Rainbow breath is just one of the 1,204 super-powers (including "nuclear poop-vision" and "larynx-freezing vision") that belong to Seth, a monstrous, genetically-engineered hillbilly who fights the influential superhero team The Authority (published by Wildstorm Productions) in 2002. So, how do you take down a force like Seth? The Authority finally beat him by finding his failsafe mechanism and transforming him into seven chickens (yes, seven chickens), all of which were then eaten by his own family.

6. The Power to Stop A Watch

A forgotten character from the Golden Age of comic books, Mister Midnite first appeared in Silver Streak Comics in 1939. While many writers were dreaming up cool powers for new superheroes to cash in on the success of Superman, the brains at little-known Comic House Publishers came up with Mister Midnite (alias "wealthy young sportsman" Neal Carruthers), who possessed a unique power. When he called out "Stop, time!" he could stop time? Well, not exactly. He could only stop clocks. He only lasted two issues, perhaps because his publisher realized that there was only so much you can do with that power. Fortunately, he never had to battle Uri Geller.

7. Super-Ventriloquism

Another also-ran from the Golden Age, the Echo's power was to, er, throw his voice. This works well for him in his day job (he's a ventriloquist), but also in his work as an amateur detective, tricking villains by making them think that they're surrounded by cops, when it's really the Echo saying "We've got him covered!"—and making them think that the voice is coming from behind them. Best of all, you never see his lips move! He first appeared in Yankee Comics (1941) and somehow fooled crooks for the next two years. In reality, his name was Jim Carson, though his chemist brother, who helped him fight crime, somehow had the name Dr Doom. (Obviously, not the famous Fantastic Four villain.)

8. Independence Day Powers

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In 1966, DC Comics came up with Dial H for Hero, which was about a teenager named Robby Reed who finds a special dial. When he dials H-E-R-O, it transforms him into a superhero—a different one each time. In 1981, the concept was revisited, when two teenagers accidentally found these dials in a haunted house and were magically transformed into adult superheroes. The cleverest part of this idea is that the heroes were invented by the readers themselves. The readers weren't paid any royalties (though they were sent a nifty Dial H for Hero t-shirt), but as the heroes never appeared more than once, they didn't miss out on much.

A pity, as it would have been great to see the further adventures of Balloon Boy, Blazerina, Raggedy Doll and Fuzz Ball (who can bounce around stomping on villains), Lavender Sky-Writer, or the Mighty Moppet (whose baby bottle squirts a liquid to shrink his enemies down to his size). But of the hundreds of dialed-up heroes, few were cooler than the Yankee Doodle Kid, whose super-patriotic powers would leave Captain America to shame. The Kid, one of Robby Reed's heroes from 1966, was a one-man Fourth of July machine, generating fireworks from his eyes, cherry bomb missiles and picture-display illusions from his fingers. Great for defending America against criminals, then celebrating afterwards.

9. The Power to Accurately Imitate Sounds

Wikimedia Commons

Green Arrow and Batman villain Onomatopoeia has the ability to replicate any sound heard around him. He's essentially a tape recorder, but without the charm. Some highlights of Onomatopoeia's powers include sounding like a gun, the snapping of a belt buckle, or the dripping of a faucet.

10. The Power to See in the Dark (While Being Completely Blind in Normal Light)

DC Wikia

Doctor Mid-Nite can see in perfect darkness—Which is cool! Doctor Mid-Nite cannot see anything if there's even the slightest bit of light—Which is not cool. He has to wear special goggles to see in the light, and this accessory is a natural target for enemies who want to gain the upper hand on the poor Doctor.

11. The Power of Squirrels

Marvel Wikia

Spider-Man, Batman, Wolverine—some of the coolest superheroes have the abilities of the toughest or most fearsome animals. In 1992, Marvel Comics introduced high-school student Doreen Green, a mutant with the abilities of squirrels. Though this is cooler than it might sound, as Squirrel Girl (what else?) has a semi-prehensile tail, a retractable knuckle spike, enlarged incisors, super-strength and an empathic bond with squirrels. Oh, and she's cute. With her powers, she has singlehandedly defeated Doctor Doom (the villain, not the Echo's brother), and is a valuable member of a team called the Great Lakes Champions. Still, a prehensile tail isn't quite as awesome as spiderwebs.

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How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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7 Engaging Facts About Goofus and Gallant
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Courtesy of Highlights for Children

For well over 60 years, the preadolescent readers of Highlights for Children magazine have gotten regular lessons in morality from Goofus and Gallant, a pair of kids of indeterminate age and relation who offer sharp contrasts in behavior. Gallant is prone to exhibiting perfect manners; Goofus is selfish, thoughtless, and has even been seen torturing small animals. (Honest: He has stoned birds and once subjected a frog to some disturbing cruelty.)

The two-panel strip has become so ubiquitous that warring ideologies are often described as “Goofus and Gallant” types. If you’ve ever wondered whether there’s more to Gallant than being a goody two-shoes or whether Goofus is flirting with juvenile delinquency, check out our round-up of the pair’s storied history.

1. THEY USED TO BE ELVES.

Goofus and Gallant

Goofus and Gallant were the creation of Garry Cleveland Myers, a child psychologist and popular syndicated parental advice columnist. Myers debuted the strip, then known as the The G-Twins, in Children’s Activities magazine in 1938. While the twosome were already displaying their radically different approaches to life, Myers depicted them as fanciful creatures with pointed ears and curly-toed shoes. No one is quite sure why Myers opted for the fairy tale aesthetic, although one theory is that he wanted to depict bad behavior rather than bad children.

After Myers and wife Caroline started Highlights for six- to 12-year-old readers in 1946, they were eventually able to acquire the rights to the strip. Goofus and Gallant debuted in their magazine in 1948; by 1952, they had morphed into two regular kids. Their parents lost the elf ears, too.

2. THEY MAY HAVE BEEN BASED ON REAL KIDS.

Highlights turned into a family enterprise, with the Myers’s children and grandchildren having a hand in its publication. In 1995, Kent Brown Jr., the Myers’s grandson, told the Los Angeles Times that he was the inspiration for Goofus and that his cousin, Garry Myers III, was the model for Gallant. Myers III denied the accusation. “Kent gets great glee out of claiming to be Goofus," he said. Brown later stated that all of Myers's 13 grandchildren helped inform the characters.

3. ONE ARTIST DREW THE STRIP FOR 32 YEARS.

Goofus and Gallant

Once Myers secured the rights to the two characters for Highlights, he enlisted illustrator Marion Hull Hammel to draw their adventures (and misadventures), taking them from the elfin creatures of the early days to the human boys of the 1950s and beyond. Hammel wound up drawing it for 32 years; Sidney Quinn took over when she retired and worked on it through 1995. Current artist Leslie Harrington has been on the strip since 2006. 

4. GALLANT GETS HATE MAIL.

While the recurring theme of Goofus and Gallant is to exercise the Golden Rule, not all juvenile readers are on board with Gallant’s impeccable manners. "I got a letter from an attorney who'd grown up with the feature," Rich Wallace, the magazine's then-coordinating editor, told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “He had something he wanted to get off his chest: 'Gallant was a wussy.'" Other readers have expressed similar disdain for Gallant, observing that they identify more with Goofus.

5. GOOFUS IS NOT A SOCIOPATH.

Goofus and Gallant

In the absence of any in-panel clinical diagnosis of Goofus’s reckless behavior—including but not limited to playing with fire, being unkind to peers, and vandalizing school books—we’re left with the editorial directives of Highlights. In a 1993 interview with the Chicago Tribune, magazine publicist Tom White admitted that Goofus is a “surly, uncooperative, ill-mannered child” but that "he is not a sociopath.” Good to know!

6. THEY’VE BEEN FEATURED IN ROUGHLY A BILLION ISSUES.

Discounting the two years they were absent from Highlights from 1946 to 1948, the antics of Goofus and Gallant have appeared without fail in every subsequent issue. In 2006, the magazine celebrated its 60th anniversary by shipping its one billionth copy. The magazine went from selling 20,000 copies of its first issue to averaging 2.6 million readers a month in the 1990s.

7. ONE EDITOR’S THEORY WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.

Goofus and Gallant

When Goofus and Gallant began their broadly-drawn moral plays in the 1950s, they were depicted as identical twins. Later on, editors for Highlights indicated the two were brothers, but not twins. By 1995, they were simply two unrelated boys. But according to former coordinating editor Rich Wallace, the two might actually be part of a Fight Club-style twist. “I’ve theorized they’re two sides of the same kid,” he said.

We were so awed by this possibility that we asked Highlights editor Judy Burke if it held any water. "We show the boys with different parents in the panels and they look slightly different from each other," she says. More recently, the two have seemed to become aware of the other's existence. "In April 2016, we had them breaking through their respective art panels and pranking each other for April Fools’ Day, which they couldn’t have done if they were the same child."

That doesn't mean that readers can't have an existential crisis of their own. "Each time we run Goofus and Gallant, we include the line, 'There’s some of Goofus and Gallant in us all,'" Burke says. "When the Gallant shines through, we show our best self.  We also include a few 'Goofus and Gallant Moments' from kids, where they tell us about times when they felt like either Goofus or Gallant. These two aspects of the feature support the theory that both characters reside within the same individual, and it’s up to that person to choose how to behave."

All images courtesy of Highlights for Children and used with permission.

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