It’s time for That’s Not Current’s clickbait-tastic list of the 10 most overlooked superheroes! The superhero has been around in comics for over 70 years and most people will be able to point to say, Superman, Spider-Man or Batman and instantly recognise who they are. Even once minor characters like Iron Man, Green Arrow or Black Widow have become recognisable to the pulsing mass that is the general public. But what about those heroes who’ve been left on the back shelves of superhero comic history? Either not getting the credit they deserve completely forgotten?
Here’s my list of ten of those characters, so in true Top of the Pops fashion, here’s your countdown.
10/ Wonder Wart-Hog
American Underground Comics of the 1960’s on the whole avoided the tropes and trappings of mainstream American superhero comics with a few exceptions. The best-known being Wonder Wart-Hog, a Superman pastiche created by Gilbert Shelton (he of the Freak Brothers fame) and Tony Bell. He’s a wart-hog with Superman’s powers who ends up getting into the sort of scrapes most superheroes would never dream of. The Hog of Steel doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
9/ IT! The Living Colossus
Created by the genius that is Jack Kirby, IT! The Living Colossus first appeared in Tales of Suspense, one of Marvel Comics pre-superhero titles, in 1961. He eventually had a short, but massively enjoyable run in Astonishing Tales in 1973 thanks to writer Tony Isabella and artist Dick Ayers. IT! was a 100 foot statue (who could alter height and fly!) created to ward off an alien menace, who was controlled by Hollywood special effects designer Bob O’Bryan. The character has been killed off and returned since then, but currently languishes in Marvel Comics limbo.
8/ Robot Archie
Think iconic British comics characters and Judge Dredd, Tank Girl or even Captain Britain spring to mind. But for some, it’s Robot Archie. First cropping up in Lion in 1952, he quickly became the main draw in this weekly boy’s adventure comic. Created by E. George Cowan, Archie was the world’s most powerful mechanical man who initially started life as The Jungle Robot before going on to increasingly fantastical adventure. Last seen in DC’s series Albion, currently also in limbo.
7/ Mr Monster
Michael T. Gilbert’s monster hunting hero first appeared in 1984, and has since went on to have his own title as well as popping up in anthology titles from Dark Horse Comics, Eclipse and a multitude of publishers. Mr. Monster, or Doc Stern, Mr. Monster to give the full title, was part parody, part lovingly affectionate towards the superhero and the horror genre. Gilbert’s work on this is some of the funniest superhero comics you’ll read and the character still pops up here and there today.
Say the name Fletcher Hanks to most comic readers today and they’ll draw a blank. However, way back in 1939 Hanks was one of the first comic book auteurs who wrote and drew the adventures of Stardust: The Super Wizard. These stories are simply some of the most bizarre superhero comics you’ll ever read as Stardust fights criminals and Nazi collaborators in stories where people routinely die in droves. One story sees the population of Earth whizzed into space to die of asphyxiation with Stardust only saving some; another sees Stardust shrinking a boss into just a head and throwing him onto another world to face a horrible fate. This is crazy, but readable stuff if you like your comics weird. The character was in limbo for decades before recently being rediscovered and has now popped up in a variety of comics ranging from The Savage Dragon to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
5/ ‘Mazing Man
There’s a number of key comics from the 1980’s which are either lost, or don’t get the credit they deserve. ‘Mazing Man is one of those books. Published by DC Comics in 1986 with the odd special for a few years after, ‘Mazing Man told the story of Sigfried Horatio Hunch III, a man suffering from a mental illness who’d pretend to be a superhero in the streets of Queens in New York. He has no powers as after all, he’s just a guy in a homemade superhero suit, so he goes around helping people out in his neighbourhood. Created by writer Bob Rozakis and artist Stephen DeStefano, ‘Mazing Man was a gentle approach to storytelling that was often touchingly human in it’s scale. It’s a classic which deserves more acclaim.
4/ The Steel Claw
This is the other British comics character which deserves to stand with the likes of Judge Dredd, but in recent years hasn’t. Creator credits are disputed on this one, but what is for certain is that Tom Tully was involved, and the great Spanish artist Jesus Blasco drew The Steel Claw from the off when he first appeared in the boy’s adventure comic Valiant in 1962. The Steel Claw was Louis Crandall, a lab technician who lost a hand in an accident to have it replaced with a steel hand, The Steel Claw. Initially a villain who could turn invisible, except his steel hand, Crandall eventually became a secret agent and even a superhero with a costume. At one point in the 60’s The Steel Claw was one of the most popular comic characters across Europe, and even after new stories stopped being created still lived on in reprints and homages in strips such as Captain Britain by Alan Moore and Alan Davis. Last seen in DC’s Albion, and currently in limbo the potential for this character is huge.
3/ Big Barda
You may have noticed a lack of female superheroes here on this list. This is corrected somewhat by Big Barda, another creation of the great Jack Kirby who first appeared in the DC Comic, Mister Miracle in 1971. The trope at the time was for a male character to be vastly more powerful than female characters. Kirby broke this cliché with Big Barda, who although Mister Miracle’s lover, was vastly more powerful physically than he was. Barda was Superman levels of powerful. Created for Kirby’s ground-breaking Fourth World sage in the early 1970’s, Barda was a New God who was brought up to fight for the cosmic tyrant Darkseid before breaking free to become a superhero who stood against Darkseid’s hordes. Eventually joining the Justice League with her by now husband Mister Miracle, Barda still pops up in various DC books.
In the history of American independent comics, Nexus has been around since 1981 and has consistently been one of the best titles published by whatever publisher it’s been at during its long history. Writer Mike Baron and artist Steve Rude created a huge sweeping space opera with Nexus (aka Horatio Hellpop), an alien bounty hunter at the heart of it in a story which is still ongoing, though Nexus has moved on from bounty hunting to be more of a superhero helping various alien races. Back issues are easy enough to get but I’d recommend the first six or seven years worth of stories published firstly by Capital Comics, then First Comics. They have a sprawling imaginative scale backed up with Rude’s extraordinary art, which I think is unmatched in American SF/superhero comics, and although the latter First Comics issues were poorer without Rude’s art, they’re still worth a look. Nexus is truly one of the key comics and characters of the 1980’s.
The first time I saw Ragman in a comic I couldn’t tear my eyes from the page. The costume was amazing, and the weird stories he appeared in during the 1970’s had me gripped, but the character’s short lived solo series mean Ragman was reduced to the odd cameo here and there, including popping up in panels of DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. Ragman was a supernatural hero who gained the power of dead men and was created by Robert Kanigher and artist Joe Kubert in 1976. Over the decades since the characters powers and origins (he’s much more to do with the golem myth now) have been tweaked not to mention placing him in Gotham City places him firmly in the Batman family, but outwith of a few old fanboys, there wasn’t much love for Ragman. That didn’t stop him looking cool, which is why I imagine the producers of the Arrow TV programme have decided to use the character in the forthcoming season five.
So there you have it, there’s my top ten. Agree with me or angrily don’t in the comments below but tell us what would be in your list?