Comic-Con is currently underway in San Diego, Calif.Â An annual celebration of geek culture covering everything from comic books to sci-fi television to fantasy motion pictures, the four day-long festival has a self-imposed cap of 125,000 attendees, all of whom come to revel in their shared love of the weird, the mythic and the fantastic.Â Call it Nerd-Vana.
Of course, an event like Comic-Con carries its own sense of dramatic irony.Â Here, once a year, is a chance for society’s odd-balls, misfits and outcasts to become media darlings, yet in the shadows stands a whole pantheon of second- and third-string superheroes whom even these uber-nerds would likely shun like a 300-pound Princess Leia at the Beverly Hills High School cheerleading tryouts.Â These heroes are the Edsels of pop culture.Â The Rodney Dangerfields of Middle Earth.Â To them, obscurity is just as deadly as the purest kryptonite.Â Where is the justice (league) in that?
In the true spirit of Comic-Con, let us pause for a Friday Fun Facts look at the Superheroes Who Time Forgot:
The Black Owl (1940): Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who would subsequently send Captain America blasting his way into Nazi Germany, the Black Owl was really Doug Danville, a millionaire playboy who, bored with his hedonistic lifestyle, decides to dedicate himself to fighting crime.Â Â Although originally dressed in a tuxedo and mask (classy!), he quickly abandoned his fashionable eveningwear for the blue body suit and red cape seen above (clichÃ© â€“ even in 1940).Â If the Owl’s cowl and goggles look familiar, it’s because they inspired Alan Moore when he created Night Owl for his “Watchmen” graphic novel some 45 years later.
The Red Bee (1940): Wearing a costume that looked like it was designed by Stevie Wonder, the Red Bee was another “powerless” superhero who, in this case, fought crime with the aid of a â€“ wait for it â€“ super-intelligent bee he kept in his belt buckle.Â A bee named Michael.Â Â (My God, who writes this stuff?) Â The Red Bee represented the first caped crusader who apparently relied on the terror of potential anaphylactic shock.
The Fighting Yank (1941): A descendent of Revolutionary War heroes, Bruce Carter III had a magic cloak that gave him super-strength and invulnerability, powers he used to fight the Axis armies during World War II while never losing his anachronistic tri-cornered hat.Â Lacking the panache of his contemporary, Captain America, perhaps the Fighting Yank could find new life as a mascot for today’s Tea Party.
Bouncing Boy (1961): Featured in DC Comic’s futuristic Legion of Superheroes comics, Bouncing Boy was really Chuck Taine, a teenager who accidentally drank a “super plastic formula” that, rather than plasticizing his innards like those fetal pigs we dissected in high school, gave him the power to inflate like a balloon and bounce like a ball.Â We imagine that, when not fighting crime, he rents himself out as a human bouncy castle Â to children’s birthday parties.Â Also gave new meaning to the phrase, “I’m rubber and you’re glueâ€¦”
Matter-Eater Lad (1962): Another ill-conceived Legion of Superheroes character, this fella had the amazing ability to eat through anything.Â Cast iron.Â Linoleum.Â Tar.Â If it had three dimensions, he could eat it.Â And never gain weight, which I suppose was the real super-power.Â Actually, maybe this guy isn’t such a lame superhero after all.Â I mean, if you’re your going to defeat bad guys, you might as well eat them.
Cypher (1984): Cypher, aka Doug Ramsey, was one of the “New Mutants” being trained by The X-Men’s Professor X in the mid-1980s.Â His “amazing” super-power was that he could figure out things like codes and obscure foreign languages.Â Kind of like A Beautiful Mind‘s John Nash, only without the schizophrenia to make him interesting.Â Cypher was such a lame idea for a superhero that he’s one of the few X-Men who, after being killed off, was never brought back.
Squirrel Girl (1992): Real name Doreen Green, Squirrel Girl has the power to â€“ I can’t believe I’m going to actually write this â€“ control squirrels.Â Created by Marvel’s Steve Ditko and Will Murray, Squirrel Girl made guest appearances in several Marvel comics including Iron Man, but never rated a book of her own.Â Which is nuts.
Triathlon (1998): Triathlon is really Delroy Garrett, a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist who is stripped of his honors when he tests positive for steroids.Â Disgraced, he turns to a religious cult called Triune UnderstandingÂ (Translation: “Try to Understand This”) that shows him how to increase his natural athletic abilities threefold.Â Yes, Triathlon is a superhero with three times the power of a normal man.Â Which considering the abilities of a normal American is pretty unimpressive.Â (He can watch TV three times as long before falling asleep?) Comic artists have for 40 years being trying to develop a first-line African-American superhero.Â In this contest, Triathlon only takes the bronze.
Enjoy Comic-Con, and have a “super” weekend!