At long last, some laughs are coming to the DC Universe. After a series of films that made it seem like DC and Warner Brothers didn’t pay their electric bill, DC’s Powerless in on its way to NBC. Powerless sits firmly in the DCU and feature the satirical adventures of a group of office folk that specialize in selling superhero hazard insurance. Anything that can lighten the load in the usually dire DCU is okay by us.
Yeah, we know the CW slate of DC shows is heavy on the humor, but you have to admit, many fans equate the DC Universe with dread and darkness. And that’s pretty darn ironic because DC Comics has a long history of humorous super heroes and zany adventure books. Stretching back to the Golden Age, DC has been the stewards of many characters and properties that can be remolded into a modern TV series or films designed to bring the ha-has back to super heroics.
Here are some great examples…
In 1941, in the pages of Police Comics, the great Jack Cole created a very different super hero for Quality Comics. This new hero, Plastic Man by name, was more of a parody of a superhero but still went on to become one of the greatest masked crime fighters of the 1940s and beyond. Plas’s origin was pretty simple. Eel O’Brien was a career criminal (he must have been, his name was Eel…would you go to a dentist named Eel. An OBGYN?). When a job went wrong, Eel was shot in the shoulder and doused with an unknown chemical. Abandoned by his gang, Eel stumbled off to find help.
As one does, Eel found a house full of monks on the outskirts of town. These monks nursed him back to health and soon Eel discovered that the chemicals had given him the power to stretch his skin and change his shape into any form. The monks talked him out of his criminal ways and Eel made a face turn to become the crime busting Plastic Man.
Now, the whole thing sounds like typical superhero fare, but Jack Cole infused his original strips with a manic, Looney Tunes like frenetic energy that remains unmatched in comic history. Cole was a master of the screwy and his wit made millions of fans fall in love with the stretchable sleuth. Early on in his original Plastic Man run, Cole created Woozy Winks, a fat, sleepy eyed sidekick for Plastic Man. The hapless Woozy got into no end of trouble bringing more and more laughs to Plastic Man’s already carnival like world.
When Quality Comics closed its doors, DC Comics bought the rights to all of the Quality characters including Plastic Man. In the 1960s, DC revived Eel and Woozy and the magic was back. Soon, DC gave Plastic Man his own title, and while the character never quite reached the heights of the Jack Cole days, it was still awesome to have such a bright and humorous hero around the DCU.
Over the decades, Plas kept his humorous edge and was way more Bugs Bunny than Mister Fantastic. The character had a popular if sedate cartoon series in the ’70s and remains an important part of DC and superhero history. In the 2000s, the great writer and artist Kyle Baker reintroduced the character in the pages of another new solo series, and this time, the Cole influence was as real as an anvil to the skull. Baker channeled Cole combined with a bit of Chuck Jones and Tex Avery to remind comic fans that when it comes to over the top comedy, Eel is your guy.
Grant Morrison effectively used Plastic Man as a member of his Justice League run, but even there, he didn’t turn down the volume on the Plastic Man wackiness. For years now, Plastic Man has bounced back and forth between his own brand of wacky and cartoony comics and the confines of the DCU proper. Sadly, DC has all but forgotten about the character, which is a darn shame, because Plastic Man has the potential to be to DC what Deadpool is to Marvel.
Seriously, it’s one of the great tragedies of history that Bruce Campbell never got to play Plastic Man.
The 1960s saw some wacky super hero concepts out of the DC offices, but none wackier than the Inferior Five. Created by E. Nelson Bridwell, Joe Orlando, and Mike Esposito, this utterly mad super hero team first appeared in Showcase #62 (1966). This team of super oddities was led by the physical week but intellectually superior Merryman, and consisted of Awkwardman, The Blimp, White Feather, and Dumb Bunny. The Blimp was fat and could fly, Awkwardman was useless on land but perfect underwater, White Feather was an arrogant archer, and Dumb Bunny, well, Dumb Bunny was super strong and as dumb as a bag of skittles.
The original Inferior Five comics still hold up. Bridwell and company infused their team with a slapstick sensibility and a certain charm that still delights. One could totally picture this team in some form on TV or in film. Imagine a Mystery Men like comedy with this group of comedic misfits. DC still tries to play with the Inferior Five now and again, most recently in a story arc in Brave and the Bold where the Five met the Legion of Substitute Heroes. More on the Subs in a moment, but in the meantime, do yourself a favor, hit a comic con and grab some issues of the Inferior Five, because it really is one of the most charming superhero parodies in DC’s rich and often times madcap history.
Holy genre mash up, Batman! Bat Lash was DC’s attempt at a parody western comic, and boy, did it satirize the western genre like nobody’s business. Bat Lash first appeared in Showcase #76 (1968) and was created by Joe Orlando, Carmine Infantino, Sheldon Mayer, and Sergio Aragonés and holy crap that’s a group of comic book A-listers if I ever saw one.
Bat Lash was a rakish, dandy of a cowboy who rode through the Old West kicking ass and taking dames. Complete with an ever present flower in his hat, Bat Lash is one of DC’s greatest cowboy heroes. He was an anti-hero with a shred of conscience that always ended up neck deep in trouble. Some of the Silver Age’s greatest comedic masters had their hand in bringing Lash’s riotous adventures to life and even though the original Bat Lash series only lasted seven issues, the comic remains a critical favorite. Lash liked his wine, women, and song and preferred the good life to dust ups with owlhoots.
How Bat Lash hasn’t appeared on Legends of Tomorrow is beyond us, but this character and the hilarity that follows him are just ripe for future media exploration.
Angel and The Ape
It’s a sultry, sexy crime solver teamed up with a for real talking gorilla, what else do you need to know? If The Flash TV series proved anything, it’s that monkeys can work on super hero television. And here’s one of the most hilarious monkey property of all time.
Angel and the Ape was created by E. Nelson Bridwell and first appeared in Showcase #77 (1968) Angel was a kick ass crime buster while Ape, real name Sam Simeon because of course it was, was a skilled detective and comic book artist. The unlikely duo received their own series after their Showcase try out and the results were pure hilarity. There is just something timeless about seeing the daring and tough as nails Angel solve crimes side by side with her hairy pal.
It was like Scarecrow and Mrs. King but instead of a dude named Scarecrow it was a monkey. It was like Jake and the Fat Man, but instead of some dude and a morbidly obese detective, it was a girl and a primate simian. It was like Simon and Simon, but more like Simona and Simian, and I’m going to stop now, these are becoming not so good. You get the idea.
Like we said, beauty and the beast solving crimes and eating bananas was comedic DC perfection.
The Green Team
Hey, the one percent can be funny. The Green Team first appeared in 1st Issue Special #2 (1975) and was created by Joe Simon and Jerry Grandenetti. That’s right, Joe Simon, the same Joe Simon that co-created Captain freakin’ America.
Anyway, the Green Team was a squad of Richie Rich like gazillonaires that used their riches to find adventure. The team would give a sizeable fortune to any individual that could alleviate their ennui by providing a thrilling escapade. It was sort of like Duck Tales without the ducks. The team consisted of Commodore Murphy, J.P. Huston, Cecil Sunbeam, and Abdul Smith and had one, count ‘em one, adventure in the Bronze Age. Two other issues of The Green Team were nearly completed but only published in DC’s dumping ground Cancelled Comics Cavalcade. These adventures saw The Green Team go up against a giant lobster and a Hitler clone named Paperhanger. Now that’s some funny shit right there.
In the modern day, you’d think in an era where a certain orange somebody is giving billionaires a bad name the time might be ripe for a Green Team revival. Yes, we could use a little Cecil Sunbeam in our lives again. DC tried a Green Team revival in the New 52 era. I think like eight people read the new Green Team (I was one of them), but it was pretty darn good. It was written and drawn by comedic DC masters Art Baltazar and Franco and is really worth seeking out.
By the way, in the first published Green Team adventure, the team invested in a roller coaster that gives maximum pleasure to anyone that rides it. There’s an internet porn joke there somewhere, but I can’t find it.
Legion of Substitute Heroes
First appearing in Adventure Comics #306 (1963) and created by Edmond Hamilton and John Forte, the Legion of Substitute Heroes were sure a for real thing once. Okay, so imagine a team where there was a member whose power was to make people really sick. Well, the Subs had one and her name was Infectious Lass. Or imagine a hero whose power was to turn to stone, and not like in an Absorbing Man way, but in the he just sort of turns to stone and can’t move – at all- kind of way. Well, the Subs had one and his name was Stone Boy. Or how about Porcupine Pete who was this dude but he was also a porcupine. And let us not forget Double Header- a guy with two heads who has two heads. Did I mention he was a guy with two heads? That was his power. And he was a member of this team.
The Legion of Super-Heroes was a fun comic, but it usually played things pretty straight, until the Subs came around that is. Some of the members like Night Girl and Polar Boy were quite powerful and cool heroes, but then there was Stone Boy… who turned to Stone Boy and fell on people, and things just got all sorts of weird. The Legion isn’t around much these days (although there are sparks of a return both on DC TV and in DC Comics), and since there is no Legion, there is no Subs. The world is a much darker place without the always hilarious Legion of Substitute Heroes around to lighten things up. Double Header, ya’ll.
And then we have ‘Mazing Man, a warmly heartfelt comedic series that garnered critical acclaim in the mid-80s. ‘Mazing Man was a deranged little man who donned a superhero suit and did good deeds around his neighborhood. He first appeared in ‘Mazing Man #1 (January 1986) and was created by Bob Rozakis and Stephen DeStefano.
The adventures of ‘Mazing Man were reminiscent of comic strips like Bloom County and had a pretty sophisticated charm and humor. For example, when ‘Mazing Man was conked on the head, he would uncontrollably sing Simon and Garfunkel tunes. As you can see from the image, ‘Mazing Man was a strange little dude that kind of sort of looked like Hourman and wore his undies on the outside of his suit. He gained notoriety after he saved the life of a child, and the series followed ‘Mazing’s charming misadventures as he gained fame. Frank Miller even provided a cover to the final issue of the original series.
Other than a few specials, DC never really followed up on the ‘lil ‘Mazing Man’s big time potential, but perhaps this likable diminutive fella could be just the thing to lighten up the DCU.
We already compared Plastic Man to Deadpool, but if DC is really looking for a Wade Wilson-esque pain in the patootie, then here’s your huckleberry, the most frenetic and obnoxious super-thing of them all, the pain in the balls, the fly in the egg cream- Ambush Bug!
Ambush Bug first was inflicted on the world of comics in DC Comics Presents #52 (1982) and was created by Keith Giffen (this is not the last time you will see Giffen’s name on this list). Ambush Bug’s real name is Irwin Schwab, a man who has no discernible connection with reality (kind of like whoever wrote the third act of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice).
Since Ambush Bug cannot connect to a linear reality, even his origins are disputed. The commonly accepted origin is that Bug’s father Brum-El (you see where this is going) rocketed his wardrobe off his home world before the planet was destroyed. The only surviving parts of the wardrobe, the Ambush Bug suit and an argyle sock named Argh!Yle! were bitten by a radioactive space spider and infused with incredible power- no, I’m not making this up. Schwab found the suit and Ambush Bug was born while the sock went onto become a Doctor Doom like villain.
Giffen introduced Bug in a couple of Superman family comics in the early ’80s and like a skid mark on the DCU, Ambush Bug has been with us ever since. Bug’s primary power is teleportation but his real power is to satirize comics and his fellow heroes. Giffen specializes in lampooning comics and comic book tropes, and his powers of scathing mockery are on full display in the many Ambush Bug series and specials DC and Giffen have inflicted on the world.
Ambush Bug may very well be DC’s most insanely comedic creation and really needs to be inflicted on the world at large. Or at least on Zack Snyder.
You all know this bastich. Created by Roger Slifer and Keith Giffen and first appearing in Omega Men #3 (1983), Lobo starred in a long running, ultra-violent comedic series. There was a lot of Heavy Metal type mayhem infused in Lobo, and where this intergalactic bounty hunter went, gore soaked chicanery and viscera bursting hilarity soon followed.
Lobo is a hard R humorous character so DC could potentially follow in Deadpool’s poop filled footsteps Lobo is the anti-hero that made disembowelment funny, and there is a load of cash to be made with this nut kicking sonnuvagun.
Justice League International
No other property in history created such waves of hilarity as the Justice League International era of the team. Lovingly referred to as the Bwah-Ha-Ha Justice League for its constant humor and satirical edge, the JLI is remembered fondly by fans that were on the ground floor of this era of Justice League silliness.
Justice League International was filled with straight men like Batman, Martian Manhunter, and Doctor Fate, but to this mix, creators Keith Giffen (hey, it’s him again, the Don Rickles of superhero writers), JM DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire added comedic foils like Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, and Guy Gardner to create a mix unlike any that DC fans had ever seen. Heroes like G’Nort, Fire, Ice, Rocket Red, and so many more added to the chemistry of the team and the result was some of the most laugh out loud funny comics that DC ever published.
The JLI is a media gold mine and a great way to lighten up the DC Universe. Imagine Nathan Fillion as Blue Beetle and Alan Tudyk as Booster Gold fighting alongside Michael Cudlitz as Guy Gardner. This is just wish fulfillment here, but it seems like now the JL and the comedic awesomeness of this era of the Justice League could be exactly what the DCU needs right now. Bwah-Ha-freakin’ Ha!
Do you like the black comedy of Preacher? Well, Preacher co-creator Garth Ennis has the perfect follow up for you. Along with artist John McCrea, Ennis unleashed Hitman and his gang of pals on an unsuspecting world in The Demon Annual #2 (1993).
The Hitman was a paid assassin named Tommy Monaghan. When Monaghan was bitten by a giant alien parasite, he gained the powers of x-ray vision and low level telepathy. But it is Monaghan’s innate ability with any and all firearms that make him such an unstoppable badass. Ennis and McCrea’s Hitman comic was set in the DCU, and Hitman and his crew of weirdos often interacted with the more serious denizens of the DCU. For example, after Hitman ran into Batman, the Dark Knight punched Monaghan in the tummy causing the paid killer to puke Thai food all over Batman’s bat boots. Other stories include Tommy and his crew taking on zombie dolphins and things just got more outlandish from there.
Hitman had that same slapstick sense of mayhem as Preacher and while this DC humorous adventure book never gets as much love as the dark adventures of Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy, Hitman is still one of Ennis’ most magical and daring books. We firmly wish that DC would consider bringing back Hitman in some form because exploding dolphin zombie brains are always funny.
Bizarro, the imperfect duplicate of Superman, and Jimmy Olsen on a Trains, Planes, and Automobiles type adventure across the US? Yeah, it’s even better than it sounds. In 2015, writer Heath Corson and artist Gustavo Duarte presented a Bizarro series unlike any other. A comedic road trip masterpiece staring the unlikeliest pals in the DCU. It was like a Hope and Crosby but with super powers and kryptonite.
In addition to all the over the top chicanery, this Bizarro series and the friendship between Olsen and Bizarro were incredibly heartwarming, and thanks to the note perfect joyous tone of TV’s Supergirl, DC could totally pull Corson’s hilarious Bizarro series off on TV. This modern take on Bizarro was timeless, hilarious, and gave the world a Bizarro tale nobody knew they wanted until they spent a few miles on the open road with Jimmy Olsen and his backwards pal.
Sugar and Spike
Sugar and Spike were two babbling babies that starred in their own super charming title beginning in 1956. The pair of adventuring infants were created by the great Sheldon Mayer who wrote and drew the strip until 1971. When DC cancelled the Sugar and Spike title in the US, Mayer continued writing and drawing the babies’ adventures for many years overseas.
But since this was more of a cartoon strip why does Sugar and Spike make our list? Well, in 2016, writer Keith Giffen (him again) and artist Bilquis Evely created an adult revival of the two beloved babies. In the Sugar and Spike feature in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow anthology, Giffen and Evely reimagined the tots as adult private detectives that specialized in superhuman cases. This new direction for Sugar and Spike was a bona fide critical hit and probably the funniest feature DC published in the New 52 era. In this version of S&S, Sugar was a tough as nails, world weary private eye, while Spike remained her hapless devoted best friend, just like when they were babies. Giffen played up the fact the two were lifelong friends since infancy and somehow, despite all the risqué humor, this new Sugar and Spike maintained the same charm as the Mayer brilliance of so long ago.