The Non-Comic Book DC Characters by Jerry Whitworth
Companies like DC and Marvel Comics have been around for over seventy years and have amassed literally thousands of original characters. However, for every Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, you have dozens of characters like Odd Man, Yellow Peri, and D-Man who few are even aware of (and those few may regret having that knowledge). Despite this, when comics move to other media like cartoons, film, storybooks, and more, it hasn’t stopped companies from developing new original creations. Some of these characters catch on, like Harley Quinn (created for Batman: The Animated Series), Batgirl (created for the Batman television series), and Aqualad (created for Young Justice). More often than not, characters like Hiawatha Smith, Lightwave, and Videoman from Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, fall into obscurity. Arguably more than any other comic company, this phenomenon is prevalent with DC Comics. Sometimes, it’s out of necessity, such as the Protector’s creation when the rights to Robin were tied up or likewise for Devil Ray when Black Manta was unavailable. Other times, creators add cultural diversity, such as Conjura (often referred as a variation of Zatanna of African descent, so much so an issue of Super A reprints a Zatanna story from Supergirl #2 with Conjura drawn over the heroine) and the Latin El Dragón of the Super Dictionary. Perhaps the franchise that contributed the most to this was the Super Friends and its accompanying toyline.
DC developed a relationship with the Filmation company to create animated series based on their properties resulting in shows like the New Adventures of Superman, Adventures of Batman, and Aquaman (a segment part of these packages including the Flash where in one notable adventure he battled alien speedster Blue Bolt, though there were other interesting villains like the Warlock from Superman, Vassa and the Brain from Aquaman, and Simon the Pieman and Sweet Tooth from Batman). The Brady Kids, an animated spin-off of the Brady Bunch from Filmation, also featured appearances by Superman and Wonder Woman. Following appearances of Batman and Robin in the New Scooby-Doo Movies, Hanna-Barbera was awarded the rights to produce an animated series based on the Justice League of America which developed into Super Friends featuring character designs by the legendary Alex Toth (Toth and H-B previously releasing an animated series for Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four). The series would morph and change into various incarnations for over ten years including the beloved Challenge of the Super Friends series (introducing the Legion of Doom) and two Super Powers series with an accompanying toyline. At one point, H-B even produced a live action version of the Super Friends called Legends of the Superheroes with original characters Retired Man (formerly the Scarlet Cyclone, a nod to Red Tornado) and Ghetto Man that largely was a sequel to the Batman television series (featuring Adam West, Burt Ward, and Frank Gorshin return to their iconic roles). During the series’ run, the creators for Super Friends produced four non-white superheroes (referred by some fans as the “Ethnic Super Friends”) in Apache Chief, Samurai, El Dorado, and Black Vulcan (the latter of which a thinly-veiled analogy of Black Lightning, reportedly from when DC couldn’t establish an agreement with the character’s creator to include him, others say they simply didn’t want to pay him for the character’s use). It should be noted, Super Friends included a character called Rima the Jungle Girl that many believe is an original creation but who was previously a literary character adapted into a short-lived DC Comics series. In any event, Super Friends’ original superheroes had a lasting effect adapted occasionally in other series and as action figures, most recently for animated series like Justice League Unlimited and Young Justice: Invasion and the DC Universe Classics toyline.
In the 1980s, Kenner toy company was awarded a license by DC Comics to develop a line of toys for their properties. To promote the series, a franchise known as Super Powers was established, which included an avalanche of merchandise, three comic book mini-series, and two animated series resurrecting the Super Friends for two final seasons. Kenner would create their own original characters, namely Golden Pharaoh and Cyclotron (the latter a Superman Robot that developed sentience, not that foreign a concept with other similar characters like Wonder Man, Kelex, and Eradicator). Brazilian toy company Gulliver Juguetes also repainted Superman figures to create their own original character El Capitan Rayo (Captain Ray), going so far to create him a nemesis in Hombre de las Nieves (the Abominable Snowman), a repainted Mego Pocket Super Heroes Hulk (the Abominable Snowman actually a rogue of Superman from the previous decade). However, action figure historian Jason Geyer uncovered even more original characters from Kenner were in development but went unproduced. Little is known about the backstory of these characters, but Geyer provided us images of Quadrex, Silicon, Executioner, Howitzer, Rocketman, and an unnamed Hawk person.
Of course, this article only scratches the surface of the characters to be produced in this fashion, dating back to film serials (such as Dr. Daka, who was later adapted for All-Star Squadron, and the Wizard from the Batman series) and on, quite notably the veritable army of villains created for the Batman television series including King Tut, Egghead (loosely based on Brainy Barrows), Louie the Lilac, and Marsha, Queen of Diamonds (all the property of 20th Century Fox, meaning despite their popularity they’ll only remain in our memories, at least for the time being). Batman seems to have a rich tradition of generating popular characters in and outside of comics, where many characters created for Batman: The Animated Series have made the jump to the books. While Harley Quinn is most famous of these characters, there’s also Renee Montoya, Nora Fries, Lock-Up, Roxy Rocket, and Sewer King (not to mention the entire Batman Beyond series). Though, the DCAU in general was a treasure trove of original characters, providing for the comics Mercy Graves and Livewire. Following the Batman theme, there’s also Everywhere Man, the Kabuki Twins, and Scorn from the Batman and Baby Face, Equinox, Joker-Mite, Music Meister, Proto-Bot, and Rubberneck from Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Batman leads the pack, but there are plenty of other examples: The Weed, the Clam, Half-Ape, Computerhead, Disco Mummy, Honey Bee, Hugefoot, and Highbrow from the Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show, Nightshade, Ghost, and Pollux from the Flash television series, Billy Numerous, Cinderblock, Control Freak, and Mumbo from the Teen Titans cartoon, Chloe Sullivan, Lionel Luthor, and Tess Mercer from Smallville, Brainy Barker and Mechanikat from Krypto the Superdog, Five O’ Clock Shadow, Tuxedo, Firebug, Mr. Pretzel, Human Puddle, and Flatscreen from Plastic Man, and Drax, Superman X, and Zyx from Legion of Super Heroes. Beyond television, there is also another interesting supply of non-comic derived characters.
A rather unique source of supervillains for DC outside their established comics is Hostess advertisements employing the comic publisher’s characters. Slud-Jak and Iceberg Head battled Aquaman, Batgirl faced Jet-Set Jessie and the faux Magpies, Batman and Robin tackled the Mummy, Pigeon Person, the Muse, Topsy-Turvy Man, the Midnight Ladies, Corsair of Crime, Professor Plutonium, Mr. Foxx, Sable Lady, and Crime Director, Bureauc-Rat, Medusa, Destroyer, and Dr. Sorcery tangled with the Flash, Dr. Live, “Spindly” Klutz, and Triclops took on Green Lantern, Hawkman fought Golden Raven, Superman went head-to-head with Big Dome and Tara Cobal, Robot Master, Borrower, giant Cooky la Moo, and Baron went to war with Wonder Woman, and Red Tornado tussled with Vacuum Vulture. On an interesting note, a Hostess criminal made the jump to the real comics at Marvel when Kurt Busiek introduced Icemaster to the Masters of Evil in the pages of his Thunderbolts series.