Jon Morris’ The League of Regrettable Superheroes is anything but a regrettable read. Officially released today, this excellent book would be a worthy addition to any comic fan’s collection, be they the hardcore enthusiast or the more casual fan of the superhero genre.
Jumping off from Morris’ long-running blog Gone & Forgotten, The League of Regrettable Superheroes (acronymized going forward as TLORS) takes a humorous yet affectionate look at more than 100 of the largely failed and almost utterly screwball characters from comic history’s past. Through 100 entries (occasionally covering multiple heroes), Morris considers such offbeat characters as Bee-Man, Bozo the Iron Man, Doctor Hormone, and Zippo. None of those sound familiar? Well, to all but the veteran or most dedicated comic bin-diving enthusiasts, the existence of many of the crusaders covered in this text will undoubtedly be a revelation. I’ve been reading comics for almost all my life and I’d certainly never heard of The Ferret or Holo-Man. Whether you recognize them or not, it’s immensely enjoyable strolling through comics’ history, and gazing at the might’ve-beens and never-in-a-million-yearses.
Each entry focuses on a hero/heroine or small cadre of characters with some artwork from a book(s) in which they’ve appeared as well as roughly a page of background information. The background info usually outlines the hero’s powers, their origin (if they even have one), and some insight into their creation/initial publishing. Each entry also includes a sidebar which helpfully informs one of the character’s creator, the comic in which they debuted, and a humorous tidbit/meditation of Morris’ own invention. Though every entry is entertaining, if not for the character’s quirky nature then certainly due to Morris’ engaging prose and humorously-proffered observations, there is also a good deal of legitimately informative historical detail here. Readers of this book will get a solid look into the hero boom of comics’ Golden Age, the goofiness of the Silver Age, and the often grim grittiness of the Modern Age. TLORS is divided into these three ages with heroes listed alphabetically within each. Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent is name-dropped and the impact of Adam West’s Batman on the genre of superhero comics is addressed. Readers will also get to learn about Captain Marvel’s legal troubles and Mick Anglo’s “interesting” relationship with the character.
Readers will also get to hear about some of the less successful characters created by such comics luminaries as C.C. Beck & Otto Binder (creators of the original Captain Marvel), Joe Simon & Jack Kirby (creators of Captain America), Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster (creators of Superman), and Steve Ditko (co-creator of Spider-Man). It really is fascinating to see the red-headed brain-step-children from the minds behind some of the absolute greatest characters to grace the medium and the ways in which even the best talents can creatively misfire. While the lion’s share of entries come from now-defunct comic publishers that most will never have heard from, Marvel and DC both make impressive showings with some truly cornball and in at least one case kind of offensive creations.
Going into TLORS, one might be concerned that this affair will be a mean-spirited tome. The use of the term “Regrettable” in the title might lead one to think that but I really did mean it when I said that Morris’ look into these characters is affectionate. Even with the loopiest do-gooders, he gives credit where credit is due and there is always a good-natured playfulness to the prose. In fact, Morris notes in his introduction that none of the characters featured here are “inherently bad” and that every character has at least the “potential to be great.” That said, some of the regrettability of TLORS’ subjects has less to do with their inherent worth or initial success. Marvel’s Rom, Spaceknight gets a nod and while his origin as a cheap plastic toy with almost no inherent backstory is undeniably odd, I have to believe that at least some of his status as “regrettable” is due to the licensing issues which prevent his roughly 75-issue run from being reprinted. Also, Marvel’s Squirrel-Girl is enjoying some success in her own title at time of TLOR’s release. Still, she is undeniably quirky and basically disappeared from comics for a decade after her initial appearances.
In the title of this review, I called TLORS a “coffee table book” and I mean that in the most complimentary terms. It comes in the form of a sizable, well-constructed hardcover with attractively and attention-grabbingly garish colors on its cover with faux-aging along its edges, and would look great left out in one’s home. Featuring images of the eye-catching and oddly-named Fatman, Doctor Hormone, Fantomah, and Bozo the Iron Man on its cover, it practically screams to be picked up. While it’s a blast to read straight through on your own, its nature as a series of roughly bit-sized entries with plenty of comic covers and interior artwork makes it easy for visitors to pick up for a quick laugh and would undoubtedly spur some engaging and laugh-filled conversation. TLORS is a well-designed affair with comic characters and pages integrated throughout. Some of the subjects covered run through its introduction pages and the sample pages/covers are always engaging pieces of artwork.
Morris does excellent work here curating this selection of comics also-rans. Every character included here has something to distinguish them and the book never drags as one reads through. I’ve complimented Morris’ writing already and I’ll do so again. His style is a great mix of straight-faced didacticism, witty observation, backhanded compliment, and lovingly good-natured ribbing. One begins to get the sense that under the right circumstances Morris himself might not be opposed to trying to give a new lease on life to the slightly buffoonish crusaders he catalogues. All of this comes together to create a pleasant send-up historical oddities with some education snuck in for good measure. Reaching the last entry, one of the few complaints one can make is that the TLORS does in fact have to end.
I got a blast out of reading this book and I highly recommend it. It even seems that it’s available for e-reader. So, don’t be a Killjoy or a Bozo. Be a Brain Boy and Zippo right out to pick up your copy even if you have to brave a hail of Gunfire. It’s the Captain Truth that this book is very nearly a Miracle, Man. It’s certainly not a Nightmare and reading it won’t make you Sleepy. ConGOrilla right now! Okay… they can’t all be winners but you get the idea.