Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Let them go down to the dust from which they sprung

(Title courtesy of Sir Walter Scott writing that the man with no love for his native land shall “go down to the vile dust from whence he sprung, unwept, unhonour’d and unsung.”)

I wrote a few months back about DC and Marvel killing off characters who still had potential to be stars. But what about the opposite — characters who stick around through inertia even when they suck?

A lot of times this is because a writer creates a character they’re convinced is utterly awesome and readers — or at least me — find them insufferable. Case in point: with Changeling aging into adulthood, Marv Wolfman created telekinetic spy kid Danny Chase as a new, younger Teen Titan in the third annual. Chase never worked for me — just an annoying smartass constantly carping how his secret agent parents trained him to handle danger so much better than the Titans.

Mark Gruenwald’s Maelstrom fell into the same category, though he didn’t appear as much. A hybrid Deviant/Inhuman with advanced genetic technology, he was supposed to be an amazing new villain. I found him almost completely lacking in screen presence.

Elihas “Egghead” Starr is a more interesting example because as far as I know, creators Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Larry Lieber didn’t think he was the sensational character find of 1962. He kept showing up anyway.

In Tales to Astonish #38 we meet Egghead as a government scientist selling secrets to the Reds. Patriotism? Duty? Those are for losers, not a genius like him. The feds don’t have evidence enough to prosecute but Egghead loses his government job. Deciding a career switch to super-villain is the best way to maintain an income stream, he tells the underworld he’s willing to kill Ant-Man, for a price. Egghead figures he can turn the ants of New York against their master by appealing to their ego; ants don’t have egos so he fails.

It’s a forgettable debut but Ant-Man was a forgettable series. Part of the problem is Egghead’s name, riffing on then-current slang for a brainiac; it’s the equivalent of having a high-tech criminal today who gives himself the villain-name Nerd. It’s justified in-story by Starr having a literally egg-shaped head but that’s pretty feeble.

Then there’s Starr lack of a personality or anything else distinctive. He’s an evil scientist who wants money, and after that first encounter wants revenge on Ant-Man. That’s about all there is to him, and nobody ever developed him beyond that. Roy Thomas tried, giving Egghead the habit of constantly quoting Shakespeare; it’s not a bad trait as quirks go but it still didn’t give him screen presence. Though no question, Gene Colan gave Thomas Egghead vs. Avengers story a cool cover.

Somehow, being completely dull didn’t stop Egghead. He kept appearing all the way into the 1980s without developing any more of a personality (he even lost the Shakespearian quoting shtick). I don’t know if he’s still around; even if not, that’s still a longer run than he deserved.

So, any nominations for characters you wish would just get forgotten? Or at least shelved until someone has a good idea what to do with them?

#SFWApro. Covers by Mitch O’Connell, Kirby and Colan.


  1. Edo Bosnar

    Generally I’d agree with your overall assessment of Egghead, but damned if Roger Stern (in that fall & redemption of Hank Pym arc) didn’t make him a truly menacing, and thus quite interesting, adversary.

  2. Adrien

    I think as I’m more sporadic in my cape comics reading than a Wednesday warrior, I can have the luxury to not put up with most characters that I don’t care for. With that said, now that his long in development movie was a flop, can we do away with Black Adam as a major presence? He’s not that bad, but kind of overwrite in the grand scheme of things.

    Also, pretty much in the camp that Hal Jordan and Barry Allen should not have come back to replace their replacements. If you have to add a dead parent backstory to make a long established character more interesting, clearly they weren’t that interesting if they needed the most cliched part of the hero journey.

    Not the biggest fan of Venom and Carnage, but I guess those ones are more “just not for me” or “I’ve read all the stories of them I think I need to” as opposed to “they need to go away”.

    Huh, I guess my bias against Geoff Johns is really showing.

    1. Hal’s dead dad was established back in Gerard Jones’ run — it would have been a big part of his plan for Emerald Twilight — but Johns made it bigger. I don’t think either character needs it to be interesting — I think it’s one of Johns’ quirks.
      But I agree, Barry should have stayed dead and Hal kept as the Spirit of Redemption Spectre.
      I forget which Marvel editor said it but I agree with his assessment that having turned Venom into an anti-hero, they decided they couldn’t live without an evil symbiote so they made Carnage even worse.

  3. Darthratzinger

    Egghead and Danny Chase are two examples where the only good stories are their respective deaths (I really liked Titans Hunt).
    Speaking of Titans: Danny Chase was almost harmless compared to the “mysterious” kids in Jay Faerbers run. One of the rare occasions where one story made me drop a book instead of waiting it out until another writer would take over.
    Rage in New Warriors and Avengers comes to mind.

    1. Le Messor

      I think I’m the only one who didn’t mind Danny Chase; but I’d heard about his reputation (somehow) before I’d read many of his appearances, so I think I was expecting a far worse character than I got.

      I never minded Rage either. I don’t know what the general consensus among NW fans is, though.

      1. Darthratzinger

        Jay Faerber became the writer of Titans with issue 26 (I think) and introduced a new character called Epsilon that joined the team immediately and five kids with powers on the run from the D.E.O. that are taken in by the Titans. One of the Titans falls in love with Epsilon but it turns out he is a psycho but is mostly possessed by a sixth kid that couldn´t go on the run with the others. The entire storyline took about a year and the kids took over way too much of the book.

          1. Darthratzinger

            Yes, Helix were kinda similar but almost worse because they also looked ridiculous. Putting Mr. Bones in a suit years later was a big improvement. In the late 90ies I hoped they would use him more but he always remained a background character.
            And yes, Faerber apparently wanted to do a mini-series and long-term maybe even replace the then-current team.

          2. Le Messor

            I haven’t read the characters close together, but I think Epsilon have a cooler look than Helix, but I like Helix better. They felt like more rounded characters; and Epsilon was part of a run of Titans that I wasn’t enjoying for multiple reasons – but I didn’t hate either of them.
            (Also, I’ve read the Helix stories at random times and out of order, as I’ve got my hands on them.)

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    I generally hate time travel characters, like Kang and the Lord of Time. The logic of the story rarely works and you end up asking why they didn’t just go further in the past, before the heroes gained their powers or whatever. The Comic Relief special, Doctor Who: The Curse of the Fatal Death covers this perfectly.

    In terms of the reverse, I always felt Batroc had way more potential to be a serious badass, in the hands of someone who, A) knew something about the French Foreign Legion, beyond Beau Geste; and, B), knew something about actual savate techniques and other French martial arts traditions (canne de combat, parkour and mixing Persian wrestling and native martial arts, from their colonies, like muy thai). Instead, he was given a comical accent and spends all of his time throwing wrestling dropkicks or dramatic, but ridiculous kicks, without punches or combinations (savate is all about combinations, as it is a style of kick boxing). There was a nice Batroc story, during Bucky-As-Cap, where he used parkour to befuddle Bucky-Cap. The movie version, with George St Pierre is a little more along the lines, though there is too much “wire-fu.”

    1. Le Messor

      While I always ask myself the same questions with time travellers, it’s not enough to make me hate them. But I do keep reading things like ‘I conquered the world in the 19th Century and now I need to conquer it in the 20th’ and thinking, ‘no you don’t; you just need to hold on to it’.

      Batroc in the movie was definitely one of those ‘nothing like the comics’ characters, though. Not quite ‘in-name-only’; I could see how this was Batroc, but very close.

      1. Yeah, Batroc was way too grim in the film. A light-hearted mercenary for TV would have worked better.
        “Savate” seems to have been a name 1960s comics used because it was the only martial art they’d heard of other than judo, jui jitsu or karate, not because they knew anything about it.

    2. Filrouge

      The movie version is played by George Saint-Pierre, a french-canadian. They introduced him as a french mercenary, and when he started to speak, the whole theater I was in went “nope, that guy ain’t french”.
      On top of that, he was lacking in panache and savate fighting.

        1. Filrouge

          The fact that the theater in question was in Paris might have been a factor in noticing the difference.
          A propos of the difference in accents, in good faith, one is suave and sexy, the other… not so much. And you can rest assured that my french citizenship has absolutely no influence on my objective appreciation of the subject.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.