Let Superman Have A Corpulent Crimeboss

Obese Mobster In A Suit makes for a good comicbook villain. The reigning Obese Mobster In A Suit in comics these days is obviously the Kingpin of Crime in the Marvel Universe. I admit, he does the job well. But Superman had two such characters in the 40s making the Kingpin a latecomer. Today I am proposing that one of those two characters (but combining elements of both) should be brought back to the Superman franchise.

I’m not looking to fat-shame anybody or anything, being overweight can be a result of many things after all, but if a villain is openly greedy and self-serving, obesity can work as a signifier of that. It’s a fine line to run, but I’m saying that the villain(s) I am offering up today is not a bad person because he’s fat, but is fat because he’s a bad person. It isn’t true of all fat people, but it is true in this case. I think that, if we make that message clear in the stories, we could do this right.

Firstly, there is the Tycoon of Crime (also known as Mr. Blob). With only two appearances in mediocre stories about four decades apart, I can’t claim that he’s ever been important. I admit, if he was the only Obese Mobster In A Suit to work with, I’d not consider this worth the effort. But the other Obese Mobster In A Suit I want to bring back is from the radio, so I don’t have any actual images of him, and thus the existence of Mr. Blob is useful for my purposes. The villain I want to bring back is the Laugher.

The Laugher appeared in multiple stories in the 40s, including being one of the villains to try to buy kryptonite from the Scarlet Widow. In those episodes he was described as being even fatter than the Tycoon of Crime is shown (the Laugher has “three chins and a belly large enough for six men”) and wears fancy suits and covers himself in jewelry. He is called “the Laugher” not because he cackles maniacally like the Joker, but because of his habit of chuckling whenever he finds something amusing. Think Dr. Hibbert, except he’s amused by crime. Given the chance, I’d cast the Laugher in the role of a capo working for the Widow and I’d say he financed the early criminal careers of criminals who amused him, such as the Toyman and the Prankster. Thus he’d be tied to the other parts of the franchise and I could have Lois and Clark bring down the Laugher as a bit of a victory step on their way to bringing down the Widow. And I’d definitely keep the Tycoon’s whole deal as a corrupt businessman. It just fits.

Bring Back The Scarlet Widow

The Scarlet Widow is an elderly woman who runs a crime syndicate. She’s ruthless and innovative and was rightly called the most dangerous woman in the world. I like her and think she should be brought back.

To make Metropolis a seedy-enough place to house the corruption our intrepid reporters fight against, you’re gonna need a crime syndicate or two. Sure, there’s been a few criminal organizations in Superman’s history, some worth using (I’ll probably write about Intergang someday), but the Scarlet Widow is my favourite and since I am always right, that means we have to bring back the Scarlet Widow.

The Scarlet Widow appeared in multiple episodes of the 40s Superman radio show. As I said, she was an elderly woman there, and I liked that. She was Ma Gnucci and Mr. Burns combined with a dash of spider motif. When the movie serials adapted her story for a visual medium, I guess they decided that you can’t let old people be seen, so they cast an attractive younger woman as seen in the picture accompanying this post (and also they called her “The Spider Lady” just to dumb things down, I guess). The internet also tells me that a version of the Superman stage musical also brought the Scarlet Widow back decades later, but I have found limited information on that. In any case, younger Scarlet Widows don’t do it for me. Give me an elderly evil mob boss behind the scenes making Metropolis more dangerous for Superman and his friends. With a criminal career as long as hers, she’d definitely have a history of striking against Daily Planet reporters like Perry White, and she could be behind the creation of a few of the lesser super-criminals who have cropped up since Superman’s arrival.

Prankin’ it up with the ol’ Prankster

The Prankster is one of Superman’s longest-appearing regular supervillains. I don’t think he gets a lot of respect from fans, but he’s also “made it” into the pantheon of Superman characters. He’s not one who I feel I need to fight for his inclusion. He’ll continue to show up because he’s tradition.

One of the more recent takes on this character, one I like, is that he’s the guy that other criminals will hire to annoy Superman as a distraction while they do other crimes. That’s a good way to go, because it gives him a lot of freedom to do wacky things. He’s also good for just doing his own crimes, in nice standalone stories with a little twist at the end. And he also gets to team up with the Toyman a lot, which is also fun.

But if I were writing a Superman story right now and wanted the Prankster in there, I’d probably have him go up against the “Truth” aspect of what makes Superman tick. The Prankster could have a vendetta against the Daily Planet and try to harm their credibility with some elaborately staged Fake News pranks and they’d have to step up and prove the worth of journalism. I think that, in this age of the erosion of truth, the Prankster has a relevant role he could play.

The Angriest Emoticon Superman Ever Fought: Funnyface

There’s been a lot of confusing decisions made in the publishing history of Superman. At some point during the era we now call the “Silver Age” of comics, it was decided that the stories that occurred in the “Golden Age” no longer applied to the “real” history of Superman. But rather than say they never happened at all, it was decided they happened to the alternate universe Superman of Earth-2. Flashforward a couple more decades and they decided that the Silver Age stuff was getting too cumbersome as well, and that included not only the Silver Age “Earth-1” Superman, but the Earth-2 stuff as well. They did a big reality-rewrite called the Crisis that changed everything around and set things up the way they wanted them now. Similar events have happened since and it’s all needlessly complicated.

One of the ways that this screwed over Superman is that it took away a lot of his Golden Age villains. I’m going to use today’s Superman Thought Victim, a villain called Funnyface, as an example. Funnyface was a villain who opposed the Golden Age Superman. All the way back in Superman #19 he appeared. When the Earth-1/Earth-2 split occurred, he was shunted to Earth-2. Fair enough. He was pretty much forgotten, so it didn’t matter too much. But then, in the late 70s, they decided to start telling new stories about the Earth-2 Superman! Neat, I’m in! (is what I would have said if I’d been reading/born). Occasionally these stories would bring back Golden Age villains, and indeed Funnyface got a comeback story in the early 80s. Funnyface returned, and so did the potential for more returns. But then the Crisis happened. Suddenly the Golden Age didn’t have a home. But Funnyface did return after that. In their new cosmology, DC decided that there had been a team in the 1940s who fought crime (the Justice Society, I believe it was) and then they did a story about that team fighting Funnyface. It was actually a complete retelling of his first appearance with Superman and Lois’s roles filled by a whole team of superheroes*. Somehow, because of all the ridiculous alternate Earth juggling, Funnyface had ceased to be a Superman villain and had become a Golden Age villain. That’s not fair! Make those guys fight their own darn villains! (A more prominent Superman villain, the Ultra-Humanite, went down this same path and that’s much worse, but I will get to that in the future.)

Anyway, to cap that Dumb History lesson, I just want to say that Funnyface ought to make a comeback. Here’s his deal: He’s a frustrated artist, who was probably not very good and was definitely not successful. He developed a way to make characters from comic strips come to life, though he couldn’t get it to work on his own drawings. He used it to summon a bunch of villains from the funny pages and have them do crimes for him. In his second appearance, he used an artists sketch of another villain to make that villain work for him (and that villain had actually been Superman in disguise, so basically Superman had to fight a duplicate of his fake identity). Funnyface, therefore, is a minor variation on Mxyzptlk-style reality warping. In fact, given the chance, I’d tie Funnyface’s powers to the Fifth Dimension**.

But that’s basically why I think he’d be useful. He can provide the wackiness of a Mxy story, with some twists. There are tighter parameters for what he can do, he isn’t omnipotent like Mxy, but we also aren’t tied to a specific ending the way we are with a Mxy story. And it keeps Mxy appearance from becoming less special, and allows for a more vindictive villain than Mxy ought to be.

A handful of Funnyface ideas that someone could steal from me if they wanted:

  • Funnyface brings to life a villain that is more cunning and powerful than he is. This especially works if its a villain from Warrior Angel, the comic Clark read on Smallville.
  • Funnyface uses a storyboard from a fantasy movie to swarm Metropolis with orcs and rule as their chief.
  • Funnyface brings to life a drawing of Superman, drawn by Lois, to save the day when real Superman is in trouble. This one works best if told from the Duplicate Superman’s POV, I think.
  • Funnyface steals valuable items at a comic convention and brings to life various villains from the comics around him, which can be used to comment on the genre.

Anyway, that’s enough for this week. Get on this, DCEU.

*It is valid to say that those two are worth a whole team of heroes.

**It occurs to me I haven’t explained what the Fifth Dimension and Mxyzptlk are yet in any of these posts. If someone were following this and didn’t already know Superman stuff, they’d be so confused. Good thing I’ve no readers.

Timebomb the Exploding Man

Timebomb is not on anyone’s list of top ten Superman villains. Nor on anyone’s top hundred, probably. Mostly, I don’t think anybody remembers this guy exists. His appearances between two comics in the 90s, both of which were about him being trounced and arrested, add up to about five pages. But there’s just enough there that I think he could be spun into something more.

Now, who is Timebomb? He’s a supervillain with very little known motivation. His powers are exactly those of Marvel’s villain Nitro. He can explode himself (or parts of his self) and then reform himself.

I’ve said it before, but I think we need to grow a rotating cast of minor villains who can be used to populate Metropolis’s criminal underworld. Timebomb is pretty perfect for that. He is exactly the type who can be seen in crowd scenes in prison or who can be hired by some mastermind criminal to serve as muscle.

But can such a nonentity as he be given a personality? I think so. Working with the theme of being a “time bomb” I’d make him a guy with anger problems. That’s a trait that could be used in a serious story, but can also be easily condensed for use in short comedic appearances. And the very typical villain desire to prove how tough he is suggests a guy who values violence as a masculine trait. There’s something to contrast against Superman himself.

If I continue my letter grading that I’ve done for previous villains, I think we need to bring Timebomb up to the C-list of Superman villains.