Comics have gone from having a niche market to being big business with film adaptations having the potential to make millions, or even billions worldwide. Yes, the time of the nerd has finally arrived, and it’s about frigging time.
However, for every Captain America, Batman, or Spider-Man, there are countless other more obscure heroes who never found a large fan base. Sometimes there’s a ready explanation for this: the hero is too dark, different, or similar to an existing, established hero, or he/she is just too damn weird to appeal to a larger audience. But sometimes there’s just no explanation for why a hero doesn’t have a greater following. Below is a list of superheroes that I feel deserve more recognition. Some aren’t completely unknown and have small but devoted fan bases, and some even had TV shows and movies based on their adventures. Others had big or small screen adaptations in the works that never saw the light of day. And, still others will never, ever, leave their home medium, and that just might be for the best. However, one thing each entry has in common is the fact that being a household name continues to elude them. So please enjoy my list of fifteen lesser-known heroes.
15. The Dogwelder
In a world where “Suicide Squad” can win an Oscar and even Superman kills his enemies, tortured anti-heroes have gone from edgy to par for the course. But occasionally, a hero comes along who truly earns the title and pushes the whole concept of fighting crime way too far. Particularly when he was a part of Section 8, a team that made the previously mentioned Suicide Squad look like the Avengers.
A guy who welds dead dogs to people’s faces sounds like the most deranged movie Stephen King and Tim Burton would ever collaborate on. But nope, this is a superhero who fought crime in a very, VERY disturbing way. He would trap and kill dogs in alleyways, then graft them to the faces of criminals. The Dogwelder is even more terrifying because he was also a complete enigma who never showed his face or even spoke. Sure, he only consigned evildoers to this grisly fate, but the fact that he’s considered a hero seems like a technicality at best. I doubt anyone mourned him when he was killed off since it was specifically mentioned that, unlike his other deceased teammates who were merely consigned to Limbo, Dogwelder was sent to hell.
14. Dynamite Thor, The Explosion Man
For a comic book era that was dubbed The Golden Age, the bar seemed awfully low for heroes. Take Dynamite Thor, The Explosion Man. His power was…being immune to explosives. Although I guess the fact that he was also a very wealthy mine owner didn’t hurt, as it apparently made him an expert in blowing crap up. To be fair, he was probably considered odd even for the time, since he appeared in a series titled “Weird Comics.”
So how exactly did he fight crime? Well, he would basically show up at location where a dastardly deed was taking place, and THROW SOME DYNAMITE. That was basically it. And it wasn’t the cartoony kind of dynamite where things blew up but mysteriously kept people unharmed. Nope, the heroic Dynamite Thor would casually mention to some criminal that he just killed his buddy and it was all over for him.
As time went on, his antics got even weirder (and bloodier), believe it or not. Dynamite Thor actually gained the ability to fly. Sure, it might look like he’s flying via flatulence like an aerial Daniel Radcliffe in “Swiss Army Man,” but it’s actually because he’s DROPPING BOMBS EVERY FEW FEET to propel himself through the air. This guy probably has a higher body count of casualties than most supervillains.
13. Brother Power the Geek
Brother Power the Geek’s original series may have only lasted two issues, but it was enough to create an impression. How could he not? For one, he was actually a store mannequin in the 60s when he was struck by lightning. It must’ve been one magical lightning bolt, because it not only brought him to life, it gave him super strength. And since he’s an actual mannequin rather than human, he also has a lot of durability and is very resistant to pain.
It was very fitting that his adventures took place in California and were centered around the counterculture. And they were about as crazy as you’d expect, ranging from getting kidnapped by an evil circus, working on an assembly line run by a villain named Lord Sliderule, and..running for Congress. Don’t ask me how that happened.
A character like this couldn’t last long, but Brother Power bit the dust in a style all his own; he got shot into space by the Governor of California at the time, Ronald Reagan. A few attempts have been made to revive the series, but they haven’t been successful. Will the world ever be ready for this guy? Only time will tell.
If the name wasn’t a giveaway, Maggott wasn’t a guy who was designed with widespread appeal in mind. He wasn’t a buff, moodily brooding, swoon-worthy character, he was a skinny guy whose speech was peppered with South African slang rather than witty, Whedonesque dialogue.
He’s definitely one of the strangest characters to ever be added to the X-Men roster, given that his abilities are downright disgusting. That certainly can’t be denied, since his mutant powers come from his companions, who just happen to be two very ugly slugs named Eany and Meany. The duo serve as his digestive system by eating for him, then burrowing into his stomach so Maggott can receive the nourishment he needs to live. This causes him a lot of pain, but also gives him superhuman strength, endurance, and for some reason, blue skin.
The problem is, such a weird, unique character needs good writing to be appreciated. So, when Maggott doesn’t have that, he can be less than enjoyable. But when he’s in the right hands (sadly, he hasn’t been for a long time), he can also be pretty fun. Just keep him and his buddies away from any excess salt.
11. Kid Eternity
Kid Eternity, a boy known simply as The Kid, actually died and went to heaven, only to be told that there had been a mistake and he wasn’t meant to die for another 75 years. So, he’s sent back to Earth and granted immortality for the next 75 years, as long as he devotes the remainder of his life to helping others. Along with his longevity, he is also given the power to summon any being, be they real or fictional, by yelling the word, “Eternity!”
Since Kid Eternity was created way back in 1946 during the Golden Age of Comic Books, he has gone through many changes, including a truly nightmarish version courtesy of Grant Morrison. Whatever direction his latest incarnation takes, the possibilities are truly endless, especially when his summoning ability is taken into account. But since DC is pretty committed to taking the gritty route nowadays, he tends to be more serious than fun lately and often shuffled from creator to creator, who tend to add origins, powers, and abilities on a whim without seeming to have much respect for the character. And given the state of the DC movies, I wouldn’t have much faith in a big screen adaptation either.
10. Danny the Street
No, the name Danny the Street is not a euphemism or a pun. He is not human, and he never was. Rather, Danny the Street is literally an actual, physical street who is also a living, sentient being. Thanks to his power of teleportation, this being can travel the world at will and place himself in various cities, without damaging or disturbing anything or anyone.
Just what does he do while he’s there? Well, he has a very friendly personality and is kind of a transvestite, so he decorates traditionally masculine spaces such as gun shops with things like pretty pink curtains. He also makes a point of offering outcasts a place of refuge allowing a few to live there permanently, where some of them perform in his Perpetual Cabaret. He’s able to communicate with people using his street signs and other various parts of his environment. He also likes to entertain people with drag shows. Also, his personality is based on British drag performer Danny La Rue.
Pretty much everything about Danny the Street is baffling. But with his warm, loving spirit and compassion for oddballs, isn’t he also the kind of location we should all be so lucky to come across?
Deadgirl was a member of a team of mutants known as X-Force, then X-Statix. Unlike other superhero teams, X-Statix was formed specifically with the goal of making its members rich celebrities.
It didn’t go so well, especially with creators deeply committed to their vision of a team comprised of selfish, disturbing, amoral people who were more interested in keeping their extravagant lifestyles afloat than in helping others. The result was that X-Statix was the first comic since the ’70s to be published without the approval of the Comics Code. In their first mission, almost the entire team was wiped out, and it seemed to establish a pattern, since members of X-Statix dying permanently became a pretty regular occurrence. So Deadgirl’s ability, which involved her kind of coming back to life after being killed, came in pretty handy. This meant she could rebuild her body even if she was reduced to little more than a skeleton, and control her limbs even after they were severed. She could also communicate with the dead in various ways. Sure, she was more of a zombie than a human being, but even after she died for good she still managed to fight the good fight in the afterlife with some help from Doctor Strange.
8. Cloak and Dagger
These two heroes are a package deal of complementary opposites. They met as teenage runaways in New York City. Cloak, aka Tyrone Powers, fled his impoverished Boston neighborhood after his stutter made him unable to tell the police that his friend wasn’t involved in a robbery, which led to his friend being fatally shot. Dagger, or Tandy Bowen, fled her wealthy roots, feeling neglected by her shallow mother. After Tyrone retrieved Tandy’s purse from a thief, the two became fast friends.
They became Cloak and Dagger after they were kidnapped and used as guinea pigs to test an enhanced form of heroin on… which had been fatal to other test subjects. After they survived, Cloak gained the power to teleport and engulf others in darkness, while Dagger could now harm others with knifelike shards of light. They began as vigilantes who sought to kill various drug lords and crime figures, then became more heroic as time went on turning their focus to helping teenagers, especially runaways. While the symbiotic nature of their powers kept them together at first, they gradually became more devoted to each other and developed a romantic relationship. With a new TV series set to debut in 2018 on Freeform starring Aubrey Joseph as Cloak and Olivia Holt as Dagger, these two heroes shouldn’t remain obscure for much longer.
7. Spider Jerusalem
Hunter Thompson has inspired a lot of imitators and tributes, most of which fail. Love him or hate him, it is undeniable that Hunter has a unique voice, one that is very difficult to recreate. But Spider Jerusalem, the protagonist of the series “Transmetropolitan,” which ran from 1997 to 2002, not only channeled Thompson’s specific brand of insanity and values, he transcended them to become an anti-hero who was loved and reviled on his own terms.
As befits a rogue journalist, Spider loudly proclaims his disdain for humanity and society while furiously trying to get the masses to triumph over the forces of stupidity, apathy, and ignorance. He resides in a kind of futuristic dystopia known as The City, where all these forces, as well as corruption and dehumanizing technology, run rampant. His writings have made him famous, a fact that he despises of course, as Spider feels he needs to be hated in order to do his job. Addicted to several drugs, driven to tell the truth at all costs, and extremely loyal to those few who can tolerate him enough to consider him a friend, Spider Jerusalem is a sometimes eerily, disturbingly prescient of the state of our politics, and media today.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” had some pretty weird team members which included a fighting, talking tree and a gun-wielding raccoon. But it turns out that there’s another team member who was even weirder.
Meet Cosmo, an intergalactic superhero who also happens to be a dog…who wears a spacesuit… and talks. Oh, and he’s telepathic, with some telekinesis thrown in for good measure. Why not? So just how did this come to pass? Simple. He was launched into orbit as part of a Soviet test program. After which he drifted into space, mutated, and became a security chief on a space station called Knowhere. And, Knowhere is located inside the giant decapitated head of a powerful being known as a Celestial. You know, the usual type of origin story. I guess this was too weird for even Marvel to pull off since Cosmo’s role in the “Guardians” movie basically amounted to a few cameos. It doesn’t look like he’ll be in the upcoming sequel, but we can hold out hope that maybe someday Marvel will decide the team isn’t bonkers enough and really pull out all the stops. At least they gave us Cosmo hanging out with the Collector and Howard the Duck in a post-credits scene.
5. Axe Cop
Just how insane is Axe Cop? Pretty insane, seeing as how it was written by a five-year-old. It started when 29-year-old comics artist Ethan Nicolle went home for the holidays and noticed his brother, Malachi, playing Axe Cop. Naturally, he felt he had to play too, and Ethan was inspired to draw the story. It soon turned it into a web comic and got a very positive, enthusiastic response from people.
Just what kind of adventures does Axe Cop have? On just one page, Axe Cop argued with another hero named Lobster Man over who should be leader. Lobster Man argued that he should lead since he has antennas which could sense danger. So, Axe Cop found a lobster and rubbed its blood on his forehead which caused him to grow antennas so he could also sense danger. Lobster Man then said that they should both take turns being the leader. Axe Cop agreed, but stated it was his turn. Axe Cop’s antennas then sensed danger, prompting him to lead his group towards it.
“Axe Cop” has since been turned into an actual comics series by Dark Horse, a YouTube series, and an animated TV show which airs on Fox. May it continue to grace us with its insanity.
4. Deena Pilgrim
Deena Pilgrim is a cop in a very unusual situation. People with superpowers, known as “powers,” are a part of life in her world, but using them is illegal. But as we all know, declaring something illegal doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. So, when people with superhuman abilities cause trouble, Deena Pilgrim and her partner Christian Walker investigate in the comic book series “Powers.”
The result is a combination of fantasy, sci-fi, police procedural, and noir, as Deena and Christian’s cases explore how superheroes coexist with the public, media, and the law. Deena and Walker’s partnership is also refreshingly platonic, as “Powers” slowly but surely builds their bond, which is tenuous at first, then quickly becomes the heart of the series. Deena quickly reveals herself to be a skilled detective with an interesting personality which is a mix of impulsive, violent, vulnerable, cynical, humorous, and cocky. She also easily holds her own standing next to many superheroes, as well as Walker, a depowered ex-superhero, who has a history that stretches back to prehistoric times. Not bad considering she doesn’t have any powers herself (most of the time anyway). A TV show based on the series aired on the PlayStation Network but was canceled after two seasons.
3. Swamp Thing
Swamp Thing is a more philosophical hero who taps into environmental concerns and anxieties, so it’s only right that his roots (pun intended) lie in the 70s. His origin has been reworked a few times, but the basic premise has remained the same; a scientist who gets transformed into the Swamp Thing when rivals blow up his lab.
But thanks to comics god, Alan Moore, the character got revamped even further when it was revealed that Swamp Thing was never human at all. For years, he thought he was Alec Holland, but Holland actually died in the explosion. Swamp Thing merely thought he was Alec because the swamp absorbed the man’s memories and consciousness; he is merely the latest incarnation in a long line of Swamp Things who exist to protect the plant world. This caused quite a crisis within Swamp Thing, who often found himself torn between protecting humanity and the natural world. But it isn’t a completely raw deal for him, seeing as how his physical body is not only incredibly strong, but he can change its size and shape at will. He’s also pretty much immortal with the power to control all plant life not only on our world, but any world. So, while this guy got (and continues to be) put through the wringer, at least there are benefits.
There have been a lot of versions of Nighthawk, but Raymond Kane is by far the most interesting. He may have been created as an attempt by Marvel to come up with their own version of Batman, but he’s grown into his own as a character who’s been planted right in the middle of some of the most urgent social issues of today. Or rather, the urgent social issues that people are now finally talking about.
His series may have died, but it did great things while it lasted. First, the book put Nighthawk in Chicago right in the middle of the city’s notorious racial strife. Nighthawk is a black superhero, as is the writer of the series, which added a greater poignancy to the hero’s adventures, which included kicking the crap out of corrupt cops, white supremacists, and the occasional serial killer. His civilian identity is that of a wealthy entrepreneur who is trying to revive neighborhoods that have been written off as hopeless by the city. So, Kane’s intentions in and out of costume remain noble, but he’s a man driven by rage. Rage at the injustices he sees every day, at the racists who killed his pacifist parents, and at himself. So, it’s hardly a surprise that Nighthawk is less than admirable when taking down his opponents as he kills them regularly. He doesn’t provide the usual escapism, rather a harsh, smart reminder about how hatred can twist the best of us and society at large.
There’s a reason Faith’s series is the same as the character’s real name rather than her superheroine alter ego, Zephyr. Faith is someone who’s loved because she’s someone many readers can relate to and therefore love to live vicariously through her.
Created in the early 90s as a part of the super-team Harbinger Renegades, Faith was given her own series last year when she left the group and her boyfriend, and moved to Los Angeles. She also happens to be a plus-sized woman who subverts the usual body norms for female characters because neither her storylines or her powers revolve around her weight, which include flight and some telekinetic ability. Really, compare that to other heroes such as Blob and Big Bertha and just breathe a sigh of relief. Faith is just a cool character who is perfectly comfortable with who she is, which is an unabashed nerd and pop culture buff who writes for a Buzzfeed-style site. Take away her superpowers and I’d still read up on her series, which could easily be just about her various adventures in writing. The result is a (female) character who is relatable without being insulting; nerdy without coming across as forced or co-opted; and realistic while representing our better selves.