May 3, 2002. For many people, that date is meaningless, unless perhaps it’s a birthday, anniversary, or the last day of someone’s physical existence. For myself, it was the dawning of a new era in cinema, a step forward for a genre that was more miss than hit, and the planting of the financial seeds that would spawn a multi-billion dollar juggernaut that would forever change the (masked) face of superhero celluloid. This event I was about to witness, be a part of, revel in, and nearly lapse into a Twizzler coma over was the Sam Raimi directed blockbuster “Spiderman”. As a kid obsessed with comic books in the ’70s and into the early ’80s, this wasn’t just a casual night out at the movies. No, for me, this was history being made, and it was just the escapist entertainment I needed to rekindle the inner child that I had lost. This was therapy.
Obviously, I wasn’t the only one that felt a connection, as “Spiderman” would go on to gross well over $800 million worldwide at the box office. Sure, I saw it several times (admission prices were lower back then), and I took comfort in the fact that my favorite crime fighter had finally been brought to life with a well structured story, crisp direction, impressive effects, and a cast that had real chemistry together. This was leagues ahead of the only live action Spiderman I was exposed to such as “The Amazing Spiderman” television series on CBS (1977-1979) and segments on “The Electric Company” on PBS (1974-1977). The wall crawler’s big screen success helped launch the adaptations of numerous other titles published by Marvel Comics, who now found themselves a hot property as film rights were quickly purchased by movie studios wanting their own blockbuster franchise. Eventually Marvel would launch their own film company, regain (most) of the rights back, and keep all of their beloved creations all together in one vast saga that’s now known as the Marvel Comics Universe, or MCU for short.
It seems with each Marvel Studios release over time, a new character is introduced, either in a cameo, an “Easter Egg” (that’s film code for a “hint” for you non-nerds reading this), or some kind of circumstantial build-up that could birth the origin of another hero. With the tight creative control Marvel now has over its action-packed sandbox, the possibilities are endless for crossover potential, and given the box office figures, the more the merrier. And now that Marvel has the ability to produce series for ABC and edgier fare for Netflix, it’s very possible that every single superhero (and villain) will be brought to life, either in the next Avengers movie or on an episode of “Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D”. However, among the vast library of Marvel Comics, there is an unofficial “Hall Of Shame”, a collection of heroes that time (and aficionados) have forgotten about.
Just to be fair, Dazzler is one of those heroes that’s not quite so obscure, and her inclusion here could be open for debate. Originally conceived as a cross-promotional, multi-media creation by Casablanca Records president Neil Bogart in the late ’70s, Dazzler was going to be a packaged commodity that would release disco records (the lifeblood of Casablanca) and have her own comic book series. Neil had gotten the idea after Marvel had released several comics featuring KISS, who was on Casablanca at that time. It was up to Neil to find a singer, while Marvel developed the comic, with the idea that a movie tie-in would then be produced. Artist John Romita, Jr. had Grace Jones in mind for the character, but representatives from Casablanca Filmworks were more interested in working with Bo Derek, so Dazzler was sketched out to reflect her image. The project kept going back and forth until Neil lost interest, but Marvel still felt the character had potential. Introducing her as her alter ego “Alison Blaire”, Dazzler made her first appearance in “The Uncanny X-Men” #130, before getting her own series which lasted forty-two issues from ’81-’85. Considered a mutant, she had the ability to convert sound vibrations into light and energy beams while riding on roller skates. As ridiculous as that sounds, Marvel always considered her a serious superhero, making her a close associate and sometime member of the X-Men, as well as an integral part of the “Marvel Secret Wars” and “Marvel Zombies” story lines among others.
Next we have Jack Heart, also known as the Jack Of Hearts, who made his first appearance in “The Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu” #22 (March 1976). Created by writer Bill Mantlo and artist Keith Giffen, the character was the offspring of interracial fornication (human and alien), who gained his powers after being doused in his scientist father’s creation, “Zero Fluid”. Besides being able to fly, he could emanate “Zero Energy” which could manifest itself into a concussive blast or generate excessive heat, along with superhuman stamina and durability (I hear you laughing). Heart’s major flaw was that he could never keep his powers in check, so he created a containment suit that resembled a Jack Of Hearts playing card (why?). Eventually Jack would join the Avengers for a while, but the dangerous energy in his body was too much for him to control, and he was forced to off himself in outer space, sparing the lives of innocent bystanders. However, in a strange turn of events (aren’t they all?), the Jack Of Hearts returned in “Marvel Zombies”.
Obnoxio the Clown wasn’t really a superhero, but the vulgar mascot of Marvel’s “Mad” rip-off “Crazy”. Created by Larry Hama, Obnoxio’s “exploits” generally involved him being rude, crude, and just an all around apathetic son of a bitch to anyone he encountered. His trademarks were his tattered clown outfit and the huge cigars he puffed on which added to his stench. Why wouldn’t Marvel want to bring him to the big screen? He did star in a one-off comic where he teamed up with the X-Men to take down a villain called Eye Scream, who could transform himself into…ice cream. Simply titled “Obnoxio the Clown” #1 (April ’83), it was written, illustrated, colored, and inked by Alan Kupperberg.
Phil Grayfield was an aspiring pro football player in the NFL who blew his knee out while saving a child from harm. Forced to retire, Phil becomes a sports reporter which brings him to interviewing a scientist who’s been constructing a new type of football uniform that’s nearly indestructible. Thieves show up to raid the scientist’s house, and after tying up Phil, they torch the place then flee with an assload of NFL merch. In the fire, experimental chemicals are knocked over, and along with some ultra-rare football souvenirs, Phil is transformed into a near-invincible superbeing. Seriously. Using the scientist’s special outfit, Phil christens himself the NFL SuperPro, fighting such foes as Quick Kick, a field goal kicker turned Ninja, and Instant Replay, an assassin that can travel short distances through time. Called one of the worst comics of all time, this deflated turd was created by Fabian Nicieza and Jose Delbo in conjunction with the NFL. It lasted for only 12 issues from ’91-’92.
Based on the real-life stuntman Rick Rojatt, the Human Fly made his first appearance on the comic stands in September 1977 with his own series. Even though the character’s outfit was based off the very one that Rojatt used, the hero’s origin was centered around a young man of unknown identity who had to undergo a number of reconstructive surgeries from a car accident. After his skeleton is replaced with steel, he takes on a masked identity and performs stunts to benefit children’s charities. His superheroics generally involved him saving a jet from hijackers or going after criminals trying to steal money from his fund raising events. Even though he was known as “THE WILDEST SUPER-HERO EVER-BECAUSE HE’S REAL!”, there just wasn’t enough interest, and the series was folded in 1979.
For argument’s sake, any of the above mentioned characters could possibly be adapted into an entertaining slice of what could be called “The Other Side Of Marvel”. A Dazzler film could be set in the ’70s, having her hanging out at Studio 54, teaming up with the Village People, and fighting her coke addiction. The Jack Of Hearts could be an intergalactic gigolo, distributing his “Zero Fluid” to a plethora of female aliens. And if anyone can bring Obnoxio the Clown to the cinema, it’s James Gunn, who masterfully delivered “Guardians Of the Galaxy”, which was seen as a risky venture for Marvel/Disney. Now, if we could just get that Howard the Duck reboot…
Joey Camp is a former podcaster that resides in Roanoke, VA. You can follow him on Twitter here.
“Marvel Comics: The Untold Story” by Sean Howe (Harper Perennial)
“And Party Every Day: The Inside Story Of Casablanca Records” by Larry Harris with Curt Gooch and Jeff Suhs (Backbeat Books)