Jon Morris; Quirk Books
It’s safe to say that with the boom of superhero movies and the recent popularization of the comics medium within the last few years you could walk up to nearly any random passersby and if requested, have them name at least one superhero or villain. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn, Captain Marvel, Captain America, Spider-Man, Thor…the list goes on and on and on for household superheroes and villains.
But like your cousin that’s into really obscure bands, there’re those superheroes that seem to only fit in the corners of bookcases, crevices of the basement, storage crates in the closet and in mere memories of yesterday.
Well, Jon Morris is that cousin.
Jon Morris, a cartoonist and graphic designer, grew up in a house full of comics according to the interview included with my copy of “The League of Regrettable Superheroes”. His father, a German immigrant, taught himself how to speak English exclusively from comic books. Comics have played an integral part of Morris’s life and not only his personal history, but his family’s as well. Along the way he’s noticed many characters that have seemed to just not quite fit, like a hand-me-down sweater or a pair of shoes ordered online. That’s where this book comes into play.
In 255 pages, “The League of Regrettable Superheroes” chronicles heroes that didn’t quite catch on, due to poor timing in the industry, in society or because they were simply bad ideas. “The League of Regrettable Superheroes” is divided into three sections: The Golden Age, The Silver Age, and The Modern Age. Each features 1-4 page histories of various heroes and villains from each specific age of comics covering upwards of 100 heroes throughout the entire book.
Each feature includes at least one photo of the character, usually the cover of one of the character’s titles. The articles are short, typically filling one page, but give an informational overview of each character highlighting the history of the character, their powers, important contextual information such as why the character was a flop, and more. Each page has marginal text that includes the creator of the character, the debut issue, year and publisher and a small fact, joke or statement.
The small facts are often lighthearted or humorous. One of my favorites is from Dr. Hormone, a Golden Age character created by Robert Bugg. His fact reads:
“Adherence to basic medical ethics: Spotty”.
Another hilarious one is from Modern Age character, Son of Satan, that reads:
“Religion: Jesuit (honestly, it said so in the comic!)”.
These little bits of information, however irrelevant, are part of what makes this book so enjoyable to read and represent Morris’s narrative voice.
The book itself is a high quality hardcover with artwork that includes a front to back cover spread. The pages are heavy and the ink is matte, which is a nice change from similar books that have slippery pages that rip and glossy ink that often glares. It’s solid and filled with lots of great information.
While it’s probably regarded as a coffee table book, I have some hesitation doing so because typically those sorts of books are considered a lesser form meant for topics such as “How to be a Man” or “Weird Laws” or “Maps of the World”. Not that there isn’t merit to those kinds of books. I love seeing coffee table books when I visit family and friends. How else do you fill in awkward silence when your drunk great-great uncle picks a political fight at Christmas? It’s what coffee table books are for, but “The League of Regrettable Superheroes” is more than just silence filler. It’s a history book of an often misunderstood medium and an extremely potent reality check for writers and artists.
As I was reading I was noticing that not just some, but many of these characters were created by big names like Steve Ditko, Joe Gill, Pat Boyette, Gil Kane, Gardner Fox, Len Wein, Joe Simon, Joe Shuster, Jerry Siegel…do I need to go on?
So you’re saying that the geniuses behind household names like “The Amazing Spider-Man”, “Flash”, “Batman” and flipping “Superman” also created these?
That is exactly what I’m saying because not everything writers write or artists draw or colorists color or letterers letter is going to be gold. It’s a harsh reality that creators not only should experience, but need to experience. It’s what gives us drive to keep going. Push through the crap covered dredges of your creativity, maintain passion and create something wonderful or Amazing (looking at you Ditko).
It serves as a reminder that sometimes ideas just don’t catch on, sometimes it is our fault because face it, sometimes our ideas suck – they just do. Sometimes it’s not our fault, like an over-saturated market during the Silver Age or not having the audience for certain characters (women in comics are changing this far-too-old paradigm, thankfully).
For instance, one of my favorite comics on my pull list this year, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, who is featured in this book, debuted during the reign of darker comics from the late 80s and early 90s – (Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman) but now she’s making a comeback, and a damn good one at that.
Will we see Dr. Hormone make a return? Probably not. “The League of Regrettable Superheroes” notes some truly unfortunate creations, but also displays the immense amount of potential deep within the history of the medium. It’s up to us whether these characters remain “regrettable” or make a comeback. Who knows, maybe some characters that are big now will surely wind up in a similar book fifty years down the road. This book should give hope to creators while asking them to be careful with what they create. It also screams don’t give up! even Ditko, Siegel, and Shuster made some goofs.
“The League of Regrettable Superheroes” hits shelves on June 2nd, 2015.