Friday, September 03, 2010

Substitutes and Inferiors

One of the funniest superhero comic books ever published featured a team-up between Superman and the Legion of Substitute Heroes. A close second is on sale now, featuring the Legion of Substitute Heroes and the Inferior Five.

Some background. The Substitutes were people with superhuman powers who failed the try-outs for the Legion of Superheroes. Considering that the Legion accepted members who could bounce or eat anything or make things lighter, you had to be pretty lame to be in the Substitutes. Members included Night Girl who had super strength unless she was in sunlight and Stone Boy who could turn into immobile stone (a sub-plot in the Legion/Ambush Bug story involved figuring out how to dig Stone Boy out after he got embedded head first in pavement).

Both groups lived in the 30th century and started out as a backup feature to Superboy. The Legion eventually got its own book and the Substitutes made occasional appearances along with the Legion of Super-Pets.

The comic in question also featured Ambush Bug in his second appearance. At the time Ambush Bug was a slightly crazed guy in a head-to-toe green suit with gold trim and antennas. He could teleport almost instantly. In his first appearance, Superman realized that Ambush Bug had a swarm of bug-like drones that acted as receptors for his teleports. Eliminate the bugs and Ambush Bug was powerless.

In the Legion team-up, Ambush Bug hitched a ride on Superman's cape just as he started traveling to the future. They ended up in the 30th century. Ambush bug released a new swarm of bugs from his antenna tips and started having (destructive) fun. The Legion proper was away so the Substitutes tried to reign him in. None of them were up to the challenge and they finally had to resort to a Looney Tunes bit - putting a "do not touch" sign on a Phantom Zone projector. Ambush Bug just had to touch and ended up capturing himself.

The new comic builds on the Substitutes long-standing inferiority complex. After reading about the Legion saving the world with the help of the Doom Patrol and a time bubble, they decided to steal a bubble and save the world before the Legion did. After a few mistakes and alternate worlds, they ended up with the Inferior Five instead of the Doom Patrol.

The Inferior Five was created during the Silver Age as a parody comic. The team was a group of second-generation heroes who (sort of) inherited their powers. Their leader was Merry Man, a 98 pound weakling. Other members included Awkward Man who had super strength but tripped a lot, the Blimp who could float, White Arrow who was a skilled archer and afraid of nearly everything. The final member was a curvy blond with super strength named Dumb Bunny. There is a telling line in the Legion/Five team-up where she says, "You have to be pretty smart to act as dumb as I do."

I'm giving all of this background because the comic skips over it. The book is entirely plot-driven. The heroes are rather interchangeable and have little time to use their powers. Which doesn't keep it from being hilarious.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?