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.

Medini the Mystic Master of the Mysteries of the Mind

Medini is one of Superman’s very first super-powered villains, possibly the first. The Ultra-Humanite came before him, but was mostly human with cool technology at this point. Medini is also one of, if not the, earliest non-white characters to appear in Superman. I put it to you that these historical accomplishments mean that Mednini deserves to make a comeback.

For the record, Medini is a hypnotist who appeared in a single story back in Action Comics #25 way back in 1940. Although he does have actual mental powers, he is also a scam artist, getting people to come use his supposed services and actually hypnotizing them into doing crimes for him that they later don’t remember. It would have been a perfect scheme if not for that meddling Superman.

Worth noting: for a non-white character created in 1940, Medini is somehow manages to not be a racial caricature. His powers and turban do kind of suggest an “oriental mystic” sort, but I get the impression he is playing into that image for his scheme. And, incidentally, I actually kind of love his yellow and green suit/turban/gloves look. We never learn where he’s from, but there’s no accent and he’s not drawn as a subhuman creature. He could easily be a surprisingly decent depiction of a South Asian or Middle Eastern guy for that era.

If I said that Terra-Man was a C-lister I want moved up to the A-list, poor Medini is an F-lister I want moved all the way up to the B-list. Seems unlikely, but I think there’s a way to do it.

I figure that the Superman books need a solid cast of recurring C and B-list villains. They aren’t the type who get big arcs or imperil the world or anything, but they can be there for a fun standalone plot now and then. That’s where Medini should be.

Give me an issue where Medini hypnotizes all of Metropolis so they forget how to use computers until they pay his ransom. Give me an issue where Medini hypnotizes Metallo into beating up other villains while Medini gambles on the winners. Give me an issue where Medini hypnotizes Jimmy so he thinks he’s a fugitive and he flees unnecessarily. Just give me an issue with Medini.

Superman Villains: Behold the Terra-Man!

Terra-Man is a pretty minor villain from the Superman franchise, having had his heyday in the 70s, but he deserves more. Classic Terra-Man is like this: Tobias Manning was the son of an outlaw in the wild west. When that outlaw died, Toby was abducted by an outlaw alien. Raised in space, Tobias made a name for himself as a notorious criminal across the galaxy armed with powerful alien technology and a western theme. At some point in the 80s or 90s, I guess the writers forgot how awesome the idea of a Wild West Outlaw From Space is, so they reintroduced Terra-Man as an eco-terrorist. Maybe there’s a case to be made for adding an eco-terrorist to Superman’s villain cast, but not at the expense of the cool Wild West Outlaw From Space! Luckily, there have been a few minor cameos of Terra-Man in more recent years that tend toward the Wild West version, so I think things are in the process of correcting.

I admit that there’s not really a shortage of Opposite Supermans in the villain cast. You’ve got your Bizarros and your Kryptonian criminals and your Nuclear Men and so on, but at least Terra-Man comes at it from a different angle. Clark is an alien who came from space and gained powers he uses to help humanity, Toby is a human who went to space and gained powers that he uses selfishly. It’s a perfect contrast. To top it off you could use his to represent a kind of old-school masculinity that Clark doesn’t. All while riding a flying horse!

I don’t have much more to say today. If we say that Terra-Man is currently a C-List Superman villain, I see no reason why he couldn’t be an A-Lister. He just needs the exposure.

The State of Superman’s Villains

I admit that, even though I want Superman to be about more than just confrontations with supervillains, I’m jealous of the superhero franchises with better rogues galleries.

Sure, Superman’s got some big name villains. Lex Luthor is pretty much known to even the common folk as an classic example of an arch-nemesis. Brainiac has had an impact on the culture at large, though I’m confident that not everyone who calls someone a “brainiac” realizes they’re invoking a Superman villain (and a similar situation exists with Bizarro, if we’re counting him as a villain). General Zod probably just juts into the public consciousness, coming second only to Luthor for villains in the Superman movies. Any Superman villains beyond that point, I’d say, are not known to the public. That’s not to say that there aren’t some more good ones, just that Average Joe Aversageson will not be familiar with them.

When I look at other heroes, especially Batman and Spider-Man, I see casts of villains that are much more esteemed. And I’m jealous. Superman deserves that.

Why does Batman have better villains than Superman? I credit one specific reason: The 60s Batman show with Adam West. Even if there was a reaction against the campiness of that show, it managed to bring an awful lot of Batman’s villains into the public consciousness, which cycled back into the comics by making writers explore those famous villains and really flesh them out. Compare that with the 50s Adventures of Superman show, which brought none of Superman’s villains to the screen. 90% of the antagonists on that show were generic mobsters and got no characterization at all that would make them memorable. There were no repeating villains either. Even when they’d reuse an actor to play a villain, they’d be playing some new generic mobster, instead of the one they’d played before. This show, which had many things I enjoyed, and which ran in syndication for an eternity, did zero work towards introducing Superman’s villains to the world. And that is why Superman’s villains aren’t up to snuff today. I have spoken.

And so, in addition to discussing Superman’s supporting cast, I will be taking frequent looks at his villains and discussing how to make them work. One simple rule is that I will only work with existing villains. I don’t think creating new Superman villains is necessary, and it only further dilutes the existing ones, especially when writers make the mistake of trying to inflate the importance of the new villains. That’s a thing that, even to this very day, is still working against my goals.

Anyway, tune in next week for discussion of a villain, same Pat-Time, same Pat-Website.