Monday, February 22, 2010

Showcase Presents: Challengers Of The Unknown Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Challengers Of The Unknown Vol. 1 (containing Showcase #6-12 & Challengers #1-17) (DC, 2006)
Writers: Dave Wood, Jack Kirby, Arnold Drake & Ed Herron/illustrators: Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, Roz Kirby, Marvin Stein, George Klein, Bruno Premiani and Bob Brown

THERE'S no doubt that this is a bargain-basement cheap way of getting one’s hands on a ton of awesome Kirby-pencilled/Wally Wood-inked art, but I don’t think my mushy brain coped well with 540+ pages of late 1950s DC inanity. Seriously, reading this many issues of wonky sci-fi nearly did my head in.
The one thing that surprised me early on was the repetitiveness of these stories. Kirby’s supposed to be some kinda creative genius but the Challengers stories boil down to three essential plots:
1. The Challengers face an evil dude who has a magic box or consumed a magic elixir or is using a super-science machine to cause mischief, like creating monsters to attack our heroes
2. The Challengers are whisked away to an alien world – or perhaps sucked into another dimension – where they fight evil aliens, OR
3. Some numbskull explorer gets into trouble by unearthing some alien enemy or dormant monster and the Challengers are called in to save the day.
The Challengers usually tackle these escapades with deathwish-seeking glee. Seriously, they’re constantly talking about “living on borrowed time” and volunteering for suicidal missions. These guys need psychiatrists, pronto!
They also don’t give a shit about advancing science or preserving our history. And after some amazing adventure where they travel in a time machine or discover the golden fleece from Jason & The Argonauts fame, they cheerfully destroy said invaluable artefact/invention ’cos they determine that mankind would be better off without it. No-one seems to care about this thoughtless, anti-intellectual, pro-Luddite behaviour.
The Challengers themselves – Ace, Prof, Red and Rocky – are fairly interchangeable although Ace appears to be the boss (and the brains, even though one of the other guys is a professor). Then there’s the honorary “fifth” Challenger, June, whose only role in life is to go on pointless scientific expeditions to isolated islands (of which there are quite a few in Challengers yarns) and get menaced till the boys come to her rescue (admittedly, June occasionally rescues the boys, too).
There are a few subtle changes in the post-Kirby/Wood stories that improve things a little. Bob Brown’s art may be less impressive, but the writers attempt to liven up the Challengers by giving them a bit more personality. Olympic wrestler Rocky Davis devolves into a meathead (in fact, at times he’s portrayed as almost-pro wrestler like) who gets teased endlessly by hothead rascal Red Ryan. Erm...that’s not much, I’ll admit, but it’s a 100% improvement on their previous bland personalities.
There’s also an attempt to introduce a recurring super-villain to...erm, challenge the Challengers.
Issue 14 gives us Multi-Man – a villain who inherits new powers every time he dies and is reborn. The Challengers basically spend the whole story trying to stop the guy from committing suicide. Multi-Man returns the following ish to again cause headaches for our heroes.
Overall, I kinda enjoyed these stories, but I have to say it was a real chore to read them all at once. Next time I pick up one of these Showcase books, I’ll know better and just dip in and out when I’m after a bit of mindless late 50s fun.

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