Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Book Review: "The League of Regrettable Superheroes"

I’m not a comics expert, but I have a great affinity for reading about comic books of years past. One of my favorite aspects of reading about these books is the often well-intentioned but ridiculous missteps that have occurred, such as an entry in the Superman universe that Glen Weldon gleefully (and affectionately) recounts on the NPR site where Jimmy Olsen travels back in time and starts a Beatles craze in ancient Judea. “The League of Regrettable Superheroes” by Jon Morris is dedicated to celebrating the wacky hijinks and preposterous storylines of yesteryear. However, rather than focusing on the missteps of well-known series, Morris’s book focuses on lesser-known and less-successful superheroes. Some have dubious origins (Captain Tootsie, a superhero/advertisement for Tootsie Rolls) while others seem to have been designed to take advantage of a trend popular at the time (Morris points out that Magicman, which debuted in 1965, was an attempt to cash in on shows like “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie”). In almost all cases, the superheroes are indeed regrettable, but Morris has palpable fondness for them even as he acknowledges how ridiculous and ill-conceived they are.

The entries are organized into three parts – The Golden Age (1938 – 1949), the Silver Age (1950 –1969, a time that Glen Weldon refers to as The Crazypants Years), and the Modern Age (1970 – present day). Most entries are two pages in length, with a page dedicated to humorously and wryly describing the superhero and the other page featuring lavish color pictures from the comics (a few entries have four-page spreads, with the extra pages consisting mostly of pictures). As a sidebar, Morris includes a few quick facts on each hero, such as the creator and the debut info, as well as some snarky commentary (for instance, The Conqueror’s sidebar includes “Last seen: Moving inexorably toward Berlin”). While the setup might frustrate those who want further information, the format works very well for readers who want a general overview of the comics without too much minutiae to bog down the proceedings. Additionally, the use of full-color pictures throughout the book (in fact, all of the pictures are printed in color – Quirk does not skimp on the printing or layout) provide further insight into the heroes, as Morris wisely uses his subjects’ inherent insanity and inanity to speak for themselves. These features also make “The League of Regrettable Superheroes” perfect as a quirky and fun coffee-table book.

In short, if you are looking for a serious and in-depth examination of failed comic book characters, then “The League of Regrettable Superheroes” might not be for you. However, it is perfect if you want an entertaining, approachable, and amusing look at unsuccessful or inept attempts at finding the next Superman or Batman.