I’ve found that few media formats take to oddity quite as well as comic books. They’ve grown across the years, from short stories featuring favorite cartoon characters like Casper and Bugs Bunny to superhero stories to adult-focused comics like Maus and Sandman.
Along the way we’ve encountered many interesting characters. Some have found their way into the public consciousness as icons. Some… not so much.
Here are ten of the,… interesting characters that can be met in the pages of comic books. Seven of them are, at least. Three were created out of whole cloth for this piece and are thus only “Trump true”. Can you identify those three?
- Ham the druid was one of the friends of a costumed hero named The Badger. Like many other superhero comic magicians, he was capable of significant spellcasting. Unlike most other heroic characters, though, he gained his power by murdering children in his castle. The whole “child slaughter” thing got him into trouble, though, so he gave it up and took to vivisecting animals instead. Eventually even that got the main hero angry with him, though, so he reluctantly turned to sacrificing computer discs to appease his dark gods.
- The natural follow-up to Ham, Cheese is a living wedge of cheese. Mostly he sits at home with his friend, a carton of milk. They drink a lot of gin and beer until something makes them angry, at which point they wander off and create massive destruction. Both he and his friend Milk are indestructible because they’re already past their expiration dates.
- Lead Boy was an applicant for DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes, but his ability wasn’t quite up to the level of Saturn Girl (telepathy), Bouncing Boy (effectively turn into a giant rubber ball) or Karate Kid (really, really good at martial arts.) Lead Boy was rejected when his power of absorbing radiation was deemed too limited (unlike, say, BOUNCING BOY). He did find temporary status as a member of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, though, alongside Porcupine Pete, Color Kid and Infectious Lass.
- Marvel gave us the 3-D Man… a green and red superhero who came to life when projected through a special pair of 3-D glasses. Because that’s not strange enough, the 3-D Man was actually a pair of brothers; one was a test pilot who had become imprinted on the glasses, the other was crippled due to a childhood illness. When the wheelchair-bound brother focused hard through the glasses, the 3-D Man would spring to life.
- The Spectre is a DC character who has been around since the 1940s. He was a character who prowled the streets of his city and punished crimes like arson and muggings. What was particularly unusual about the character were his powers, which were basically “anything.” Stop time, change people into rats, cause clothing to burst into flame, swap minds, render people irretrievably mad… whatever he wanted. It was eventually revealed that the character was the wrath of God, made incarnate. One would think that in a world where the Joker was slaughtering hundreds and Brainiac was enslaving large cities he might intervene, but, no… muggers and arsonists.
- Gold Key comics brought us Quackers, a talking duck. This is not particularly unusual; such creatures have been a staple of comics for decades, with everyone from Daffy Duck to Howard the Duck getting their own titles and dozens more as ancillary characters. What made Quackers distinctive was where he appeared. Gold Key had dozens of licensed property titles – Star Trek, Twilight Zone, Bonanza and more. Quackers first appeared in the My Favorite Martian comic, and following a crossover became a regular in the Courtship of Eddie’s Father comics. Because nothing says “real life drama” like a talking duck.
- Sam was a character that Jack found in the Golden Boughs Retirement Village. Jack was the title character in the series “Jack of Fables”, the hero (or antihero) of almost every fairy tale or children’s story which involved an unspecified character named Jack. Sam was an old black man who lived an worked at the Village. Events of the comics later revealed the truth: Sam was, in fact, “Little Black Sambo”, who had aged and withered as his story was censored from public consumption due to racist elements. His fairly specialized ability to turn tigers into butter remains unique in comics history.
- Rocketman was a superhero created by Dell comics, which at the time was trying to branch out from their licensed properties like Bugs Bunny comics, Scamp (the son of Lady & the Tramp), Get Smart and Dr. Kildare. Rocketman had the pre-1970s ability to fire off parts of his body at evildoers without any recognizable means of propulsion. Those parts were still somehow controlled at a distance; his hands could grasp and carry, for example. Unfortunately, the comic only lasted two issues, after a panel where a knee was meant to be shooting off left the impression that his crotch was the part that flew away. The Comics Code Authority threatened to pull their authorization from Dell, and the publisher tanked the title.
- ‘Mazing Man was an attempt to create a “slice of life” comic with a humor element. The main character was small, the size of a kid, and wore a homemade costume constructed from baggy clothing and a giant helmet. He was a superhero who cleaned out people’s drainpipes or carried groceries for them, and his best friend, Denton, was a normal guy who just happened to have a beagle’s head. When he had head injuries he’d sit around singing Simon and Garfunkel songs, which were guaranteed laughs from the ten-year-olds the comic was marketed to.
- Snapper Carr was one of the early members of the Justice League. His ability? He could snap the fingers on both hands simultaneously. Added when the DC comics editors wanted to get teenagers buying their magazines, Snapper was a teenager who happened to be immune to the mind-control efforts of a giant starfish. Having gotten their attention, he was allowed by the heroes to be in their headquarters whenever he wished. It is uncertain if Wonder Woman asked Batman “Can we keep him?”
Just because all ten of these are somewhat ridiculous doesn’t mean they aren’t real. Seven of these characters made multiple appearances throughout an element of our pop culture. The question is, which three did not?
UPDATE: The fakes are #3, #6 and #8. Every character and group mentioned in #3 exists, other than “Lead Boy”. Gold Key did have a My Favorite Martian comic, but not a Courtship of Eddie’s Father one. And sadly, as stupid as the “shooting off body parts” concept is, that character was an iteration of Captain Marvel and he could only fire off his limbs, leaving him as a torso for a bit.
The creator of Milk & Cheese, drunk “Dairy Products Gone Bad” who commit hyperviolence on anyone who annoys them, was approached about making a kid’s cartoon of the pair in the early 1990s because of the success of other independent comics-to-television like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Tick. In a rare case of morals over money (especially nice that it came from a person who was drawing teenagers being stabbed with broken gin bottles) the cash was flatly refused because the characters were far to inappropriate to be marketed to kids.
Jack of Fables was a spinoff of Fables, which received many awards for its writing. Not many writers would touch the story of Little Black Sambo with a ten-foot pole, but Bill Willingham pulled it off nicely, focusing on the heroism of the fairy tale character while acknowledging its racist elements.
Thank you all for playing! Hope you enjoyed.