Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Suggestion Unboxed - Characters Outside the "Super-stars"


Doug: Back in October we ran a post requesting ideas from our readers. We promised to run all of those suggestions at some point. While we've covered many of them, it's been a while since some of those thoughts graced our blog. Here's another one:


jeirich: I'm endlessly interested in some of the Big Two's B-listers from that period: the Black Panther (particularly the Panther's Rage arc, by Don McGregor); Deathlok; Killraven; the Challengers of the Unknown; some of the lesser Kirby titles like Omac . . .

Martinex1: Discuss second tier teams like Alpha Flight, Outsiders, Doom Patrol, Ultraforce, Force Works, Eternals etc.


17 comments:

Redartz said...

For Marvel: my favorite "b-lister" would have been Omega the Unknown (maybe a 'c-lister, actually). Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes really gave us some odd storylines, and a close examination of the challenging school life of the young James-Michael Starling. It really struck a chord with me as I was between middle school and high school at the time. Not that my school experience was anything like his...

Also read Deathlok (really liked the Rich Buckler artwork there), and Man-Thing (just about anything by Steve Gerber was high on my list).

From DC- probably the only second-tier book I read at the time was Rima the Jungle Girl. I was attracted by the fine linework of Nestor Redondo, as well as the Kubert covers.

Otherwise, I picked up the occasional "Omac", but as primarily a Marvel zuvembie, mostly kept to the big guns at DC.

Edo Bosnar said...

First, to jeirich, I have to say, Black Panther and Deathlok have been covered quite a bit at BAB. If you haven't already, I really recommend checking out the reviews Karen did of some of the early Deathlok installments in Astonishing Tales: Astonishing Tales #25, Astonishing Tales #26, Astonishing Tales #27, Astonishing Tales #28, Astonishing Tales #30, Astonishing Tales #31 and Astonishing Tales #32. Also, Deathlok was discussed a little more in a review of Marvel 2-in-1 #54.
Karen and Doug also reviewed the Black Panther vs. the Klan story from Jungle Action #19, Jungle Action #20, Jungle Action #21, and Jungle Action #22. There's a little more on the Black Panther in this review of Fantastic Four #119.
(I always love encouraging people to go spelunking - to borrow Doug's coinage - in the BAB archives.)

Man, though, this is such a big topic - or two topics really. On the subject of B-listers, I agree with Redartz that Gerber's Omega and Man-Thing are worth a read. I'm also partial to Black Goliath, even though poor old Bill Foster never seemed to get any respect even in his own series.
On the DC side, my favorite B-lister (and victim of the implosion) was Ragman. The 5-issue original series was pretty solid, with stories written by Bob Kanigher and most of the art by the 'Redondo Studio,' although character co-creator Joe Kubert drew the last issue and a back-up story in another. Ragman was an interesting, very street-level character who never fought super-villains but rather underworld bosses and their henchmen and drug pushers and the like.

Colin Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
William said...

For some reason, I was always a big fan of B and C listers from both of the Big-Two.

For Marvel I loved B-list characters like Iron Fist, Shang Chi, Luke Cage, Ant-Man and Daredevil (yes he was a B-lister until Frank Miller came along).

And C listers like The White Tiger, Wonder Man, Machine Man, Havok, Captain Britain (in his original red suit), Devil Dinosaur, and even The Human Fly. Heck I was a regular reader of The Human Fly and Devil Dinosaur from the beginning. I also really liked The 3-D Man as well. I picked up every book he appeared in. (Including the What-If issue about The 1950's Avengers).

For some reason I always felt drawn to the less popular characters. Maybe because they weren't so overexposed. I guess that's why I was always a huge fan of Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One. Because those were a couple of titles where you could see some of Marvel's lesser used characters on a regular basis.

Over at DC I absolutely loved Plastic Man (still one of my favorite characters ever), and the same goes for Captain Marvel (SHAZAM). I also really liked The Doom Patrol (in back issues), Black Lightning, Hawk & Dove, and The Creeper.

One DC book in particular that I was really into was The Freedom Fighters. Man, I loved that book for some reason. I don't know why that particular comic made such an impression on me, but I still have a soft spot for it to this day. I really wish they'd do a TPB collection or something. I'd definitely pick it up.

I noticed that Black Panther seems to be a really popular "B" lister around here. I always loved the character's powers and especially his costume, but was never wild about the overall concept. I could never get into the whole "King of Wakanda" thing. That just never appealed to me. Why would a guy who didn't even have a secret identity where a full face mask and run around in the hot jungle wearing black spandex? It made no sense. I also could never figure out his motivation for being an Avenger either. The guy had an entire nation to govern, so how did he find the time to play superhero on the side? However, It does look like he's going to be pretty cool in the new Captain America movie.

J.A. Morris said...

I was always a huge fan of Marvel's Bronze Age B-listers, maybe because I always pull for underdogs. I always preferred the Defenders to the Avengers. And when I think of Defenders, I don't think of Hulk, Namor or Dr. Strange. I think of B and C listers like Nighthawk, Valkyrie, Daimon Hellstrom, Red Guardian, Hellcat and later Gargoyle. It was always a fun series with quirky dialogue from the likes of Engelhart, Gerber and Kraft.

Power Man and Iron Fist always featured entertaining villains who were usually "street-level" threats who got hold of some superpower or technology. Lot's of good done-in-one-issue stories that featured the Heroes For Hire. Goldbug and Chemistro were my personal favorites.

Moon Knight was one of my favorite solo B-list characters of the 70s & early 80s. I recommend the recent Moon Knight epic collections that feature his guest appearances and early solo stories.

And I've always felt that Tigra was underutilized in the Bronze Age. Greer Nelson would've made a great Defender.

I'm not a big DC guy, but I enjoyed Kirby's Demon stories that were published in the 70s. The "J" in my screen name stands for Jason, and that was the name of the Demon's alter ego, so I was naturally a fan I think Demon can be considered a B-lister.

Anonymous said...

For me, the Gerber titles (Howard the Duck, Defenders, Man-Thing, Omega) were Marvel's best b-list comics, with Tomb of Dracula and Master of Kung-Fu joining the list. In terms of characters, I liked the casts of each of the above but my favorite Marvel B-lister has always been Nightcrawler. I know he's had a few solo series but he always works best as part of a team. In addition to cool looks and powers, his personality works as a nice contrast to his more morose teammates.

My favorite DC characters are b-listers: Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter. J'Onn wasn't around much in the Bronze Age, but Ollie was shaped by O'Neil, Adams, and other Bronze Age mainstays. My favorite DC titles of the era were Warlord and Joe Kubert's Tarzan. The latter is a licensed book so kind of doesn't count, but the former is a fun romp through Pelucidar, er, Skartaris.

- Mike Loughlin

Anonymous said...

Most of my favourites have been mentioned already...Shang Chi, Moon Knight, Luke and Danny, White Tiger, Black Lightning, Warlord, Vigilante. I always liked the Outsiders, also Infinity Inc. (would they qualify as B-list?) and the New Warriors. I guess I always gravitated toward the "non-mainstream" heroes, for whatever reason (though Spidey and Batman were my favourites and it don't get more mainstream than that!)

Mike Wilson

The Groovy Agent said...

Skull the Slayer, Deathlok, Warlock, Guardians of the Galaxy, Defenders, Captain Marv-ell, Master of Kung Fu, Iron Fist, Nova, Ant-Man, E-Man, Rog-2000, Doomsday +1, Omac, JSA (they were B-Listers in the Bronze Age, for sure), Manhunter, Starman (Remember the Levitz/Ditko/Tanghal run series?), Unknown Soldier, Jonah Hex, Claw the Unconquered, Starfire (the sci-fantasy character), Spectre...I could go on and on, but I'm pretty sure most folks know of my love for the "B" and "C" titles. I dunno why I loved 'em with the same fervor as I loved Captain America, the Avengers, the JLA, and Batman, but I did. I remember when the X-Men were (at least) a "B" title...loved them then, too!

Dougie said...

Groove is right about the All - New X-Men being until about 1978/9. While they were a huge influence on the New Teen Titans,the New Doom Patrol also had a touch of the Claremont/Cockrum formula. They were DC favourites of mine but I also enjoyed Staton's JSA very much. My b/c listers at Marvel included Gerber's Defenders, Ms. Marvel and Nova. Top of the D - listers has to be Woodgod.

Dougie said...

Arrgh. My point was supposed to be that X-Men was a quirky little outsider title circa 75/76.

pfgavigan said...

Hiya,

What, no love for "IT, The Living Colossus!" ??

Seriously, this is a really good subject for a number of reasons. From comments made by a series of staffers at the time it's easy to see that Marvel editors used a tier system in assigning talent to books. "A" level talent to "A" level books and so forth.

Trouble is that this could mean that the 'newbies' were often starting out on recently introduced titles. Now not everything that Marvel produced back then was a diamond in the rough and no amount of polishing was going to change coprolite into the Star of India.

But there were a lot of titles that would have benefited from a more experienced hand upon them. Take the Defenders as an example. It cycled through several writers (Thomas, Englehart, Wein and others) before Gerber finally brought the title some stability. But the book had the benefit of artistic continuity in the steady hand of Sal Buscema. Buscema knew how to render a superhero tale, more importantly, he knew how to render a tale with multiple superheroes. Gerber latched onto this and together, he and Sal produced a run of stories that I still remember and read several decades later.

Now consider this, suppose our pal Sal had left the book at the conclusion of the Avengers/Defenders crossover. Now imagine the artwork going through the same replacement cycle as the written word. From the latest Young Turk who can't produced the artwork fast enough to meet the deadlines to established veterans who have fallen out of favor with the editors and assigned titles that nobody else wants.

I seriously doubt the book would have lasted as long as it did.

Seeya

pfgavigan

pfgavigan said...

Hiya

Again

Getting back to the main thrust of this column, I guess the 'Bs' that I tended to like was stuff like Damage Control and the previously mentioned It, the Living Colossus. I like the sense of humor that these titles had and, especially with Damage Control, a feeling of what it would be like to live in a world of capes and cowls. X-Men often showed how people would react negatively to mutants, heck, it was the staple theme of the title. But in Damage Control we got a sense of how New York would just deal with it.

Building knocked down, call Damage Control.

Need a giant robot removed from your property, call Damage Control.

Your daughter is involved with a Canadian mutant with a drinking problem, you're on your own.

And The Living Colossus was just a whacked out reminder of a time when a comic book didn't necessarily have to be logical to be enjoyable.

Seeya

pfgavigan

Martinex1 said...


Pfgavigan, I agree with you 100% on the Defenders. I tend to think a team like the Champions fell into the category of never finding the right creative team (or not finding the balance soon enough) and we see what happened to them. They were a team kind of like the Defenders that never quite made it. I also guess the newer talent teams very occasionally skyrocketed their title to the top like Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne on X-Men. Would the same have happened if they were given the Champions early on?

It, The Living Colossus... yes. And for me, the Living Mummy, Morbius, and Werewolf By Night (even though I did not own many).

I have a soft spot for the Metal Men, and I am not even quite sure why as they are pretty goofy. Staying on the DC side, I like Deadman, Adam Strange, Hourman, and Red Tornado. Regarding teams, the Doom Patrol is now one of my favorites. It was a pretty outlandish concept and had great character designs (particularly Negative Man) for when it was created. Arnold Drake should get some credit.

On the Marvel side, I have to echo the love for 3D Man. I never understood why he never took off from Marvel Premiere. He was weird I know and very kitschy, but I really liked him. I thought his costume was cool too; not too many red and green guys running around (other than in late December). And I thought his 50s milieu, Skrull enemies, and political undertones were different and fun. Marvel Premiere, Spotlight, and Presents had their share of B, C, and Z listers, but I always liked those titles.

Alpha Flight does not get discussed much here and it was kind of an odd title. In some ways in the early issues they were more of a non-team than the Defenders. I believe that for the first ten issues the team rarely got together (I’d have to check some details) but for a while it was almost a different solo book or truncated team-up each month. And with oddballs like Marrina, Puck, Aurora and Snowbird, I found it fascinating in an “odd cable show” kind of way even with superstar Byrne helming it.

I don’t know if any of you followed Ultraforce from Malibu in the 90s. When Gerard Jones and George Perez were working on the early issues, it was really a lot of fun. The Ghoul character was interesting and I thought some of the early storylines were enjoyable… before they merged into the Marvel universe. I might have to reread them though as I am very much going off of memory. Around that same time, I liked Warlock and the Infinity Watch. I know it was not as epic as the early Starlin Warlock stories, but I liked these later tales too (and considering it was the 90s, there honestly seemed to be a consistent storyline with some solid art).

Is the Thing a “B” Lister today? He used to be high on the “A” list for sure, but like Subby, Mar-Vell, Silver Surfer, and others that were stars, there’s been a little tarnishing of Ben it seems.

I am glad to see ROM coming back, as he was one of my favorite "C"?? Listers. To give kudos to lower rung characters (and their creators) who never really made it to the cool table... Jack of Hearts, Stingray, Quasar, Paladin, Torpedo, Red Guardian, Soviet Super Soldiers, and the Crusaders (from the Invaders)... maybe someday.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I loved Killraven and Deathlok, maybe it was the fact that even thought they were both Marvel properties, they were not directly interacting with A-listers like the Avengers or Spidey. Of course, Deathlok did have some adventures with the Thing later on.

Killraven had the great combination of trippy dialogue by Don McGregor and exquisite art by Craig Russell. Deathlok just plain terrified me with its bleak outlook of a dystopian future.

Ah, yes, it seems like so long ago that even the X-men were considered B-listers. As for Iron Fist and Power Man/Luke Cage, these two in my mind were always A-listers, no matter what anyone says!


- Mike 'Z-lister' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Humanbelly said...

Quasar's book is very, very high on my list, MX-1. It's the rare instance where I was able to love a comic in spite of the perpetually downward curve the quality of the art took as it was shuffled through a succession of less & less capable pencilers.

Hmmm-- DP7, anyone? Ha!

Or another curiosity that came from outside of Marvel's continuity: STRIKEFORCE MORITURI-? An incredibly dark premise. . . yet somehow I kept picking it up month after month. . .

On the DC side, even though it's well outside of our temporal target area 'round here-- the re-launch of JSA in '98 or '99 (was it? Maybe '02??) may very nearly inch out Defenders as my favorite B-list team book of all time. It was a great, great series that exhibited a Gruenwald-like love for the lesser lights in the tapestry (mixing metaphors) of the DCU.

HB

Edo Bosnar said...

HB, I read the initial ten or so issues of DP7, thought it was actually pretty good...
And I've always been curious about Strikeforce Morituri; I've heard only good things about it.

Anyway, looking over the comments, I'm wondering how we're defining B-list here. For example, in terms of sales and general popularity, I think Howard the Duck was A-list back in the late '70s, and I think even the Defenders cracked into that category for a while (never mind that inside the Marvel Universe they were definitely not taken too seriously by other hero teams). I think a similar argument can be made for Shang Chi, which was - again - pretty popular at the time, and is even now considered by many fans one of the best, if not the best, Marvel series of the 1970s (with a very respectable run of well over 100 issues). Same goes for Alpha Flight in the 1980s.

And Mike, you'll always be a TnT-lister to me...

Karen said...

One of the great things about B/C listers is that the creative teams had more flexibility with them. They could take more risks, change up the characters' situations more. Sometimes this was out of necessity -trying to find something that would make the book sell! But sometimes it was just experimentation -the freedom to try new things with a low selling title. I think that's one of the reasons I gravitated towards weird books like Warlock, Deathlok, the Guardians of the Galaxy run in Marvel Presents -there were things going on in those titles that you wouldn't see in Spider-Man or the FF!

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