Daily Archives: June 12, 2011

With This Ring, I Thee Smash

27+ Other Notable Ring-Slingers in Superhero Comics and Cartoons

1+. The Legion of Super-Heroes
With Green Lantern set to make his big-screen debut this month, the world’s most famous ring-slinging superhero is generating quite a bit of buzz outside the usual group of hardcore comic fans, not least among Hollywood types eager to see if a B-level DC superhero has what it takes to dominate the summer box office. But as any comic nerd will tell you, Hal Jordan (or Kyle Rayner, or Guy Gardner, or whomever) is hardly the only hero to rely on a fancy-looking ring to save the day. Case in point: the Legion of Super-Heroes, that band of 31st-century do-gooders with a proclivity for codenames ending in “Lad” or “Lass.” As revealed in a did-you-know feature during the 2005 Legion series, the high-tech ring worn by all official Legionnaires provides flight, communications, translation, navigation, recording capabilities, and life support for deep space missions. The ring can even be adapted to account for the various members’ powers, such as Colossal Boy’s size-changing powers or Triplicate Girl’s ability to split into three people. Still doesn’t beat the ability to conjure up lime-green fly-swatters or bazookas on command, but the Legion ring is a handy piece of jewelry to have on hand — or at least Booster Gold thought so, back when he first assembled his superhero ensemble from pilfered items from the future before travelling back into his past/our present day to become a superhero.

2. The Flash
Then there are the heroes who don’t need a fancy-shmancy ring to do five dozen jobs for them. Take the Flash; specifically, the Silver Age Barry Allen version, whose fleet-footedness allowed him to dodge bullets, vibrate through walls, disarm entire armies in the blink of an eye, and even go back and forth in the timestream whenever the mood struck him. With that kind of intrinsic power at one’s fingertips (or, to be more precise, toetips), possessing a Green Lantern ring would probably seem superfluous. Then again, a ring might come in handy to help deal with the more practical challenges a superhero faces over the course of his day… like, say, how to keep the super-suit hidden yet handy at all times. Allen solved this dilemma by creating a ring with a hollow compartment inside; when it’s time for action, he pushes a button on the ring and his Flash costume pops out, its chemically treated fibers instantly expanding upon contact with the air.  Admittedly it’s a pretty neat trick, but I’ve always wondered why a man who could run fast enough to be in two places at once would ever need to fret about mundane tasks like where to stash his costume. Maybe he just thought the ring looked stylin’.

3. The Mandarin
Long before Tolkien sent Sam and Frodo off on their grand adventures, rings were seen as symbols of magic or receptacles of powers and energies beyond mortal comprehension. It’s why they feature so strongly in many religious ceremonies, like the exchange of rings during a wedding ceremony… and also why it makes perfect sense for Iron Man’s arch-nemesis, a man whose stated goals make him the antithesis of modernity, to wield rings as his ultimate weapons (even though the irony of using extremely high-tech weapons in pursuit of a return to the past seems lost on him). As the story goes, the Mandarin’s father was a wealthy man in pre-revolutionary China who lost everything, including his life, after the Communists took over. Embittered and orphaned, the young man who would become the Mandarin discovered an alien ship that crash-landed centuries ago in the forbidden Valley of Spirits. Because they’re aliens and all, they used rings to run the ship’s systems, and the Mandarin mastered the use of ten of their rings, each one with a different power, as part of his plan to rule the world (or at least enough of it to feel like a big, big man). Though the product of alien science, they might as well be magic rings for all the powers they confer on their wearer: ice blasts, heat blasts, disintegration beams, and the ability to mentally control others are just some of the nifty powers at the Mandarin’s disposal, thanks to a bunch of aliens that had some crazy-ass ideas about how to power a spaceship.

4. Freedom Ring
Introduced in a 2006 issue of Marvel Team-Up, Freedom Ring didn’t enjoy a long career, but it was just long enough for some folks to accuse Marvel of being a bunch of mean ol’ homophobes for (spoiler!) letting him die after just four issues of existence. The story: Curtis Doyle is an ordinary guy who finds an amazing ring that grants him the power to alter reality within his immediate vicinity. The ring can do this because it’s made from a piece of the Cosmic Cube, the Marvel Universe’s non-sentient genie in a bottle, and Doyle finds the ring after it’s lost during a battle with the super-villain who created it. Using the ring to remake himself into a superhero, Doyle calls himself “Freedom Ring” and ends up getting killed by an evil alternate-universe version of Iron Man. His sudden (and seemingly pointless) death was seen by some as yet another example of how Marvel didn’t want openly gay superheroes in its stable, but writer Robert Kirkman (better known for his Walking Dead series) said that wasn’t the case at all: “I wanted to do a well-rounded character who just happened to like dudes… In hindsight, yeah, killing a gay character is no good when there are so few of them… but I really had only the best of intentions in mind.”

5. The Mighty Hercules
Canadian television was a pretty eclectic experience for a child of the ’80s, especially if (like me) you lived in the northern parts and your early-era cable options were extremely limited. I spent many a wintry Saturday afternoon watching the scant number of shows available for my viewing pleasure, including endless reruns of the 1960s Spider-Man and Rocket Robin Hood series, various cartoon ads for must-have toy lines I was supposed to pester my parents about… and The Mighty Hercules, a Canadian-produced series that aired on Canadian and U.S. stations for three years in the 1960s before moving on to rerun heaven. I rated the show’s characters in a previous list, but it’s worth noting here how the demigod’s strength in the show came from his magic ring, a gift from his father, Zeus. Why Hercules required the ring to access his godly strength — or, for that matter, why he always carried his ring inside his monogrammed belt and waited until some mythical beast was charging right at him before putting the damn thing on his finger —  was never really explained in any of the five-minute episodes. But you know how kids are — show them a few seconds of a raised fist surrounded by thunder and lightning followed by 10 minutes of crappily animated action and all critical analysis goes right out the window.

6. The Phantom
So far, we’ve seen how superhero and super-villain rings can be portals to great power (and, occasionally, convenient costume storage). But then there are the heroes who just like the look of a shiny ring, or adopt one as part of their mystique. The Phantom first appeared in newspaper comic strips in 1936; creator Lee Falk worked on the strip until his death in 1999. He’s also appeared in comic books, novels, TV shows, and a not-well-received 1996 feature film (starring Billy Zane as The Ghost Who Walks). Bereft of super powers, he relies on conventional and unconventional weaponry to save the day; his two rings definitely belong in the “unconventional” category. The “good mark” ring (on his left hand) leaves a pattern on people that signifies they’re under the Phantom’s protection; the “evil mark” ring (on his right) leaves a skull-shaped impression on enemies when he punches them. The MythBusters show did a segment on the Phantom during its “Superhero Hour” episode, and they conclusively proved  that hitting a person in the face hard enough to leave a ring imprint requires more than enough force to crush a human skull. So consider that myth busted. Some comic stories have suggested the imprint is more like a tattoo using jungle-plant based inks, but… I dunno, picturing the Phantom running around with a jungle version of a librarian’s stamp pad just doesn’t scream “badass” to me.

7. The Fly
Magic rings have a long and storied history in myth and fable, and no wonder: they’re small, portable, distinctive, they can be made of magical materials (like an enchanted gem or stone)… and let’s not forget how handy it is to have a weapon that can be worn on a part of the body we tend to point at other people anyway. For all these reasons, rings pop up in all kinds of fantasy stories as devices that confer incredible powers on otherwise ordinary people. Aladdin and Frodo Baggins are two obvious examples; less so is Tommy Troy, the boy who would become the Fly in the pages of  Adventures of the Fly, an Archie Comics series that first appeared  in 1959. As the story goes, Troy was an orphan taken in by a wizard couple, and he finds a ring in their attic that summons one of the mystical Fly People. Long story short: Fly People magic, left Earth long ago, looking for new champion. All Troy had to do was rub the ring while saying “I wish I were the Fly” and he instantly became an adult in a superhero costume, complete with all the powers of a common fly except, um, the ability to fly (a bit of an oversight, but one that got corrected in later stories). Despite original story and art by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (with input from other comic legends later on) and several attempts to reboot the character, the Fly never really found a huge audience, and no wonder — after all, who would want to read about a teenaged hero with the powers of some creepy-crawly thing?

8. Seraph
Speaking of magic rings. Solomon was the wise king from biblical times who once settled a dispute between two women over an infant by threatening to cut the child in half (Court TV was obviously way cooler back then). In more modern times, he’s also known for literally putting the ‘S’ in “Shazam!” by bestowing the power of wisdom onto young Billy Batson whenever the lad shouts his trademark word. But Captain Marvel isn’t the only superhero to benefit from the king’s largesse; meet Seraph, the Israeli superhero who first appeared in DC’s Super Friends #7 (10/77) alongside other internationally themed heroes. Along with possessing the strength of Samson and other powerful artifacts, Seraph wears “the magic ring of Solomon,” which in ancient legends made the king all-knowing and gave him the power to trap genies and talk to animals, among other feats. None of that Doctor Doolittle nonsense for Seraph, though, as his magic ring only confers wisdom and the ability to teleport short distances. I’d be fine with that, too.

9. Lex Luthor
The Silver Age Luthor didn’t have much use for jewelry, magical or otherwise, what with his uncanny ability to cobble up bank-busting robots or kryptonite death beams on a budget. In the 1980s reboot of the Superman franchise (and the 1988 animated series created to salute Superman’s 50th year), Luthor was recast as a ruthless billionaire who owned Metropolis until a certain Kansan farmboy came to town. After discovering that Metallo’s power supply, a piece of kryptonite, was deadly to Superman, Luthor had a small chunk of it placed in a ring as his personal insurance policy against the Man of Steel. Not the brightest idea the super-genius ever had, as continued exposure to the rock’s low-level radiation cost him his hand and, eventually, his life… but it was nothing a fake plane crash, quick cloning procedure, and re-appearance as his own long-lost son couldn’t fix. No, seriously.

10. The Thing 
In the comics, the Thing was a pilot and decorated war hero who went up into space, caught some bad cosmic rays, and came back to Earth as the lumpy yet super-strong Thing. In the 1979 cartoon Fred and Barney Meet the Thing… it didn’t quite happen that way:

I don’t remember the show explaining in any of its 26 episodes how nerdy teenager Benjy Grimm came into possession of the two rings he used to transform himself into the Thing, or why he needed to say “Thing rings, do your thing!” every time he did so. But this is Hanna-Barbera we’re talking about here, and explaining how improbable things came to be (like, say, how a talking, cowardly dog and his human companions got into the mystery-solving racket) was never high on their agenda. Also never properly explained: why the show’s producers insisted on calling the show Fred and Barney Meet the Thing when the stars never actually met. A bit of a shame, really; I bet the Thing could have made a nice living for himself in Bedrock as the prehistoric version of the Michelin Man.

11. The Blue Lady
And now to the obscure. The Blue Lady is nearly forgotten these days, mostly because her Golden Age adventures were published by the minor-league Centaur Comics and no one has shown the slightest interest in reviving her for modern audiences. At least she can lay claim to being one of the few female superheroes to appear before Wonder Woman, making her debut in 1941. According to her first outing, novelist Lucille Martin was heading home from China when she crossed paths with Lotus, a Chinese woman on a secret mission to deliver a priceless artifact to a man in San Francisco. Recognizing three thugs who were after the artifact, Lotus asked Martin to deliver it in case anything happened to her. Or course, the artifact is an ancient ring, and as Martin is admiring the ring she accidentally breaks it and inhales the strange gas that is released. Later, she wakes up to discover she has superhuman strength and responds to this development the same way any of us would, by putting on a mask and costume and tracking down the men who killed Lotus. The Blue Lady appeared in three back-up stories in the pages of Amazing-Man Comics before disappearing forever, not even getting a mention during a brief 1990s revival of other Centaur characters. Maybe if she had gotten more into the lasso-and-bondage thing…?

12. Wonder Man
Not to be confused with Marvel’s resident superhero/Hollywood star, this Wonder Man was one of the very first superheroes to follow in the wake of Superman’s success — and the first superhero to feel the full wrath of Superman’s lawyers, appearing in just one issue of Victor Fox’s Wonder Comics (05/39) before he was litigated out of existence. Fred Carson was just another mild-mannered radio engineer and inventor who, while vacationing in Tibet, came into possession of a magic ring that made him faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single… and you start to see the problem here. (It also didn’t help that reporter Brenda “I’m Not Lois Lane” Hastings heaped plenty of scorn on Carson while swooning over Wonder Man.) The lack of an origin story for the ring (beyond “a yogi gave it to me”) meant readers never got to find out how the ring was able to offer all these fabulous powers to its wearer, but it’s safe to assume a rocket from a doomed planet was probably involved.

13. Super Rabbit
He wasn’t the first superhero rabbit — that title would go to Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, who joined Captain Marvel’s growing entourage five months before Marvel’s Super Rabbit hit the stands in 1943. But at least Super Rabbit can take pride in being the only superhero bunny to promote literacy in a serious way, by having his entire name scrawled across his chest (instead of just an initial like some other super fellows we could mention). Whenever trouble arose, mild-mannered Waffles (either a reporter or shoeshine boy, depending on the story) would rub his magic ring and instantly transform into Super Rabbit. As the biggest funny-animal star in Marvel’s stable back when funny-animal stars were big business, he rivaled Captain America and the Sub-Mariner in terms of scoring corporate face time, showing up in every one of Marvel’s funny-animal titles until his final appearance in 1952.

14-15. Insect Queen & Web Woman
Guys, you know what I’m talking about. If you really want to impress the ladies, you’ve got to offer up some major bling… like, say, a ring that gives the wearer all the powers of the insect kingdom. Lana Lang had a sweet gig as young Clark Kent’s next-door neighbor/scourge of Superboy when she just happened to come across a space alien in need of assistance (things like this happened all the time in the Silver Age comics; most readers just rolled with it). To show his gratitude, the alien gave Lana a ring that changed her into a human firefly, grasshopper, centipede — whatever the plot required.  Of course, she didn’t know that at the time; as you can see in these panels from Superboy #124 (10/65), the alien just said the ring had “biogenetic powers” that would reveal themselves in times of need. So you can only imagine how Lana reacted the first time it happened (the word “AAGGGGHHH!” was likely involved). In the same vein, Kelly Webster also received her insect powers from a ring that she received after rescuing a grateful alien from a river; all she had to do was say the phrase “Insects of the world, small creatures of the cosmos … lend me your powers — now!” and she was ready for action. First appearing on the Tarzan and the Super Seven cartoon show in 1978, Web Woman didn’t last as long as Insect Queen did, but she had a few more handy powers at her disposal, like her ring’s ability to emit power beams that solidified into webbing… hence the “Web Woman” name. Advance buzz of her show prompted Marvel to publish (and trademark) its own Spider-Woman comic and cartoon (which debuted, by amazing coincidence, in 1979), just to make sure no one else came up with a web-slinging gal that wasn’t one of theirs… and that was about the extent of Web Woman’s impact on the world.

16-17. TNT and Dan the Dyna-Mite
Not every superhero strip published in those early years was a winner. For every Superman and Batman, there were dozens of Tex Thompsons or Human Bombs that would get a brief run in an anthology comic before fading away, only to come back in a retro-tinged series. TNT and Dan the Dyna-Mite certainly fit that description; they first appeared in a 1942 issue of Star-Spangled Comics and enjoyed a year and a half of adventures before they were retired, returning only when a title like The All-Star Squadron needed some reliable extras (though Dyna-Mite scored a decent solo gig for himself in 1987’s Young All-Stars). The set-up: high school chemistry teacher Thomas N. Thomas (no, really) and his star student, Daniel, were working with “radioactive salts” when they discovered their bodies had absorbed explosive powers from the chemicals in their experiments. Realizing that becoming superheroes was their only option, Thomas made a pair of rings (quite the talented teacher, he was) designed to keep their bodies’ energy dormant until the two rings were  touched together. When TNT died in an early issue of Young All-Stars, Daniel thought it meant the end of his career as well… until he put on both rings and pressed them together. And that’s why you work hard in school, kids.

18. Diamond Jack
Diamond Jack made a grand total of eight appearances in Wow Comics and Slam-Bang Comics, and his first adventure precedes that of the original Green Lantern, who debuted in 1940. So it’s tempting to assume GL’s creators borrowed or outright stole the basic concept (ordinary guy with a magic ring that allows him to create anything he imagines) from their rivals at Fawcett Comics. But there were significant differences between the two characters; where GL could use his ring to create green energy constructs that resembled objects, Diamond Jack could use the mystical black diamond in his ring (which he got from a mysterious wizard in the Far East) to create solid copies of the object itself. Also, unlike GL’s ring, Diamond Jack’s ring didn’t emit a protective aura; a crook could easily get the drop on him if his attention was focused elsewhere. And of course, there was Diamond Jack’s preference for regular attire (as seen here) — no capes and tights for this adventurer, thank you very much. It’s probably a good thing he didn’t splurge on a whole new wardrobe, what with the short career and all, but given Green Lantern’s success you can’t help but wonder how far Jack might have gone if he at least tried to wear something a little flashier.

19. Craig Carter
And then there are those times when the ability to fly, alter reality, gain insect powers or create objects out of thin air just won’t do. Hey, about a ring that can summon mythological figures and beasts to do your bidding? That would be both handy and dandy! It was never adequately explained how an Egyptian man came to possess a ring that could summon ancient Greek and Norse deities to do the wearer’s bidding, nor was it ever explained why the man would give such a powerful artifact to archaeologist Craig Carter for saving his life (most of us would have been happy with a simple thank-you note, maybe a nice dinner at a reasonably priced restaurant). Then again, considering that Carter’s adventures lasted for all of two issues of Centaur’s Wham Comics in 1940, there wasn’t really a lot of time to get into those kinds of details.

20. The Echo
Plenty of stage magicians (Mandrake, Zatara, etc.) found themselves fighting crime in those early days, so why not give a ventriloquist a chance to do the same? First appearing in Harry ‘A’ Chesler’s Yankee Comics in 1940, Jim Carson fought crime as an amateur detective by throwing his voice (and, if I had to guess, freaking the holy hell out of evildoers with strategically placed dummies). Along with his awe-inspiring power of making his voice sound like as if it were coming from inside a locked box, Echo also used an invisibility belt and a ring that allowed him to shoot paralyzing beams from his eyes. Yeah, I’m not going to try to understand how that would work, either.

21. Thesson, Son of the Gods
As noted on the Public Domain Super Heroes wiki, John Thesson was on an archaeological dig on the island of Crete when he found the ring of Poseidon. He put the ring on and discovers he’s the reincarnation of Theseus, the last son of the gods. The ring gives Thesson your standard super powers: super strength, able to leap great distances, superhuman endurance — you know, the kind of powers that are handy to have but nothing too flashy. And with that simple origin out of the way, Thesson is off to fight crime as Thesson, Son of the Gods. He appeared in issues of Nedor’s Exciting Comics in 1940 and 1941, and spent a lot of time running around shirtless fighting Nazis, whales, lions and anything else foolish enough to pick a fight with him. And… that’s it, really.

22-26. Captain Planet’s Planeteers
So it’s 1990, you’re the living spirit of the Earth and you’re starting to notice this pollution thing is getting a bit out of hand. What do you do? Well, you could decide humans are the problem and cull the herd with a few tried-and-true methods: earthquakes, ice ages, reversals of the magnetic poles, fun stuff like that. But if you star in a cartoon teaching environmentalism to the kiddies, you might instead decide to give five magic rings to a suitably multi-ethnic group of children and get them to do your dirty work (so to speak). That’s what Gaia did in the first episode of Captain Planet and the Planeteers, and for the next six years viewers learned important lessons, like the fact that all the world’s pollution can be traced back to a half-dozen guys with names like Sly Sludge and Hoggish Greedly. Possessing the powers of earth, water, fire, air and heart, together the five rings could summon Captain Planet, the blue-skinned, mulleted champion of the environment. And the cartoon was so popular and not-at-all-cheesy that all the pollution in the world got cleaned up and we never had to worry about the planet’s health again. The end.

27. Congorilla
Congo Bill first appeared in Action Comics in 1940, and he enjoyed the standard jungle adventures that were popular with readers back in the day. But in the late 1950s, as jungle strips waned in popularity and the superheroes were staging a comeback, DC decided to shake things up a bit by having Congo Bill receive a magic ring from a dying witch doctor. As the intrepid jungle explorer soon learned, whenever he rubbed the ring his mind was transported into the body of a giant golden gorilla, and vice versa — or, to put it another way, he gained one of the awesomest superpowers ever. Of course, there was the minor inconvenience of the gorilla’s mind taking over Bill’s body at the same time, which meant certain precautions had to be taken every time he pulled the switch, but think of the advantages that would come with controlling a gorilla’s body! At the very least, it would make your next performance review a little more interesting. The downside, though, is that you could end up trapped in the gorilla’s body if something ever went wrong with your own body… which is exactly what happened to Bill in one of the “edgier” books that came out a few years back. Bummer.