Daily Archives: November 4, 2009

“Now Shall You Feel the Wrath of Baron von Stapler!”

11 Super-Villains Whose Names and Powers Suggest Their Creators Spent a Bit Too Much Time Staring at Items Around the Office


1. Clock King
It’s not that I’m wholly unsympathetic to their plight. After all, it can’t be easy for comic writers to constantly come up with new super-villains to challenge our favorite heroes month after month. And yes, I can see how a writer sitting in his office and staring a  deadline in the face would be tempted to scan his immediate surroundings in search of last-minute inspiration. But seriously: can there be any other character whose appearance screams “deadline approaching” as much as the Clock King? First appearing in 1960 as a Green Arrow foe, William Tockman (ho ho) begins a life of crime against society—and fashion—when his doctor gives him six months to live, and so he decides to use that time to steal enough money to care for his invalid sister. Nabbed by Green Arrow, he ends up in prison and his sister dies while he’s in the stir, but the cruel irony is that the doctor accidentally switched his file with that of another patient. So while Clock King’s anti-social attitudes are somewhat justified, it could have been worse: at least he wasn’t the other patient.

2. Calendar Man
A perfect example of too much time spent on the concept and not enough on the codename, Calendar Man (a.k.a. Julian Gregory Day, geddit?) started out life in 1958 as one of Batman’s foes, drawing inspiration from calendar dates and holidays to plan his daring crime sprees. For instance, during one memorable story he committed a series of crimes based on the days of the week (“Friday” was named in honor of Frigg, the Norse goddess of marriage, so he robbed a society wedding). He tended to wear costumes reflecting the themes of his crime sprees, but his baseline costume (a red-and-white affair with numbered calendar pages forming a cape) was always good for a laugh.


3. The Eraser
Speaking of laughs. This character debuted in Batman #188 back in 1966, and has made very few appearances since. Not too hard to figure out why: dubbed Lenny Fiasco (oh, those writers and their concocted aliases!), the Eraser specialized in “erasing” crime scene evidence for other criminals, and he demonstrated said ability by wearing a giant headpiece in the form of a pencil eraser, with a striped yellow business suit and pointed black shoes (“that could also emit a sleeping gas,” according to one source) to complete the ensemble. Oh, and his reason for turning to a life of crime? As a child, he was constantly mocked by fellow students for getting answers wrong and then (cue the violins) the girl he planned to go to Ice Carnival with elected to go with a teenaged Bruce Wayne instead. “This issue is widely acknowledged as the nadir of Batman comics history,” blandly states the Batman Wiki page, and… yeah.


4. The Living Eraser
Together, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created legends. This is not one of them. First appearing in 1963’s Tales to Astonish #49 as a foil for Giant-Man and the Wasp, the Living Eraser… well, I can’t do much better than this write-up at the MarvApp site: “The Living Eraser uses a device known as the Dimensionizer which can transport people to other dimensions, primarily between Earth and Dimension Z, although it has been used to travel to other realms as well. As the Dimensionizer passes over a surface, it turns it invisible, making it appear as if the victim is being erased. When the entire surface has been ‘erased,’ the being or object is transported across dimensions to its destination.” For years, his name was shorthand for any embarrassingly ill-conceived Marvel character, at least until Squirrel Girl came along.


5. The Calculator
This is a rare example of a character on this list who started out lame — no, I mean really lame — but later received a half-decent makeover to become a formidable presence in the DC universe. Clearly inspired by the then-novel pocket calculators of the 1970s, writer Bob Rozakis created Noah Kuttler, a career criminal who wore a keypad on his chest that he would punch to create “hard light” constructs, which would emanate from a flashlight-like device on top of his head. After a few ludicrous appearances, he languished in limbo until reborn in 2004’s Identity Crisis, ditching the hardware and goofy costumes and promoting himself as an information broker to the criminal underworld. But the question remains: can you still spell naughty words on him if you turn him upside down?


6. Chairman
If you’re a comic fan of a certain vintage, then you might remember those Hostess ads featuring Marvel and DC superheroes solving crimes and saving the day by throwing processed snack cakes at the malnourished malefactors who were so inconceivably lame they couldn’t even score an appearance in a She-Hulk story. Exhibit A: the Chairman, a villain dressed like a stage magician who used either magic or science (it was never really explained) to transform humans into chairs. Okay, then. Employing said talent to hijack a shipment of antique chairs (because, you know, he likes chairs), Chairman is foiled not by the heroics of Spider-Man but by two children who throw Hostess Fruit Pies at him, causing his gun to backfire and turn himself (oh, cruel irony!) into an actual chair-man. Thought I haven’t read it yet, I have it on good authority that Chairman makes a return appearance in 2009’s Fin Fang Four Returns! one-shot, where we find out he’s still stuck as a chair and serving time in prison. Which begs the question: How far does anyone expect a felonious chair to run?


7. Colonel Computron
So, it’s 1981 and everyone is mooning over their snazzy Commodore Vic-20 computers, which came with a mind-boggling 64K of memory. Or they’re home paying Combat and Asteroids on their spiffy new Atari 2600 game systems. Heck, one of them might have been sitting on Cary Bates’s desk when he conceived Colonel Computron, a later (and lesser) addition to the Flash’s famed Rogues Gallery. His only attribute was a computerized suit of armor and a “Molecu-Siphon” gun that traps Flash inside a video game, where the Scarlet Speedster bounces Pong-style off the walls. It is, as far as this historian knows, the first time a comic-book villain ever used a video game for evil, though any child of the ’80s could tell you it wouldn’t be the last.

8. Angle Man
Interior dialogue of Robert Kanigher, circa 1954: “Aw, crap. Another deadline? All right, who can Wonder Woman go up against this time? We’ve used up all the Greek gods, Nazis are passé… hey, who left this geometry set here? Darn kids, always leaving their schoolwork lying around. Hmmm… geometry. What about a geometry-based villain? Captain Protractor? Naw, too corny. The Crimson Compass? C’mon, Kanigher, think! What about this triangle, then? Triangle… angle… ‘what’s the angle here’… I got it! I shall call him… Angle Man!” And lo, Angle Man was born, designing cunning schemes based on angles and later using a superpowered triangular device that could warp time and space… though never, oddly, transporting him to a time and place where he could become remotely interesting.

9. Dr. N-R-Gee
Like most comic fans who can remember the ’70s, I grew out of Richie Rich comics at a fairly young age. I mean, the “baseball diamond made out of actual diamonds” sight gags were only funny the first three, four hundred times the artists drew them, you know? But whatever else you can say about the Richie Rich empire’s “back to the well” approach to storytelling, the writers certainly came up with some memorable guest stars. When Reggie van Dough or Mayda Munny weren’t busy busting Richie’s chops, you could count on such villains as Dr. Blemish or the Onion plotting to take a piece of the Rich family fortune. And then there was Dr. N-R-Gee, a besuited villain who wore a working light bulb over his cranium whilst committing various criminal acts that were ultimately thwarted by the world’s richest prat. I don’t recall if he ever had a moll named Lola Lampshade, but if he didn’t then I consider it one of life’s great untold tragedies.

10. Bookworm
Sleepwalker headlined his own Marvel title in the early ’90s, back when the company was riding high and pushing out titles starring just about any cockamamie character the writers came up with (ladies and gentlemen, I give you NFL Superpro). Bob Budiansky’s Sleepwalker was typical of the time, but to the book’s credit it was also shameless in introducing the kinds of villains that would have felt right at home on the old Batman TV show. Case in point: the Bookworm, who actually shared his name with one of TV’s Bat-villains. This Bookworm was a bitter lab assistant who one day discovers he has the ability to bring to life any character he reads about in a book. And while you or I may put this power to proper use by investing heavily in back issues of Scantily Clad Co-Eds Monthly, the Bookworm instead elects to use Amazon warriors from a mythology book to beat up his bullying co-worker. Which, frankly, shows a sad lack of imagination; Ayn Rand and Gertrude Stein tag-teaming to kick your ass, that’s pure terror for you right there.


11. “Paperman”
One of the weirdest villains to ever appear in a DC ’80s comic (and that is truly saying something), this unnamed creature made its first (and, as far as I know, only) appearance in 1981’s The Brave and the Bold #178, which teamed up Batman and the Creeper to battle… paper? A new menace is loose on the streets of Gotham, targeting junkies, homeless people, welfare recipients, inebriated college students — in short, anyone whom your average Joe Six-Pack might see as a threat to the values of “real” Americans. Batman and the Creeper soon discover the killer is a creature made entirely of paper, committing death by paper cuts to clean up society one dreg at a time. How this creature comes to be is too ridiculous for words; all that matters is, by the story’s end, we’ve all learned a little something about the value of tolerance and understanding. And to carry a flamethrower wherever we go.