Today I Read…The League of Regrettable Superheroes

League of Regrettable SuperheroesToday I read The League of Regrettable Superheroes: Half-Baked Heroes from Comic Book History by Jon Morris.

Batman. Captain America. Wonder Woman. Iron Man. Superman. Thor. Batgirl. Phoenix. Green Lantern. Spider-Man. These are the names of heroes, tales of their deeds told over and over again. Beloved and respected, they have stood the test of time. But what of their less famous brethren? What of Bozo the Iron Man, Pat Parker War Nurse, Ultra the Multi-Alien, Stardust the Super-Wizard, The Ferret, or Captain Tootsie? What of their…um, exploits?

Jon Morris has collected together some of the most obscure and possibly most ridiculous superheroes of the past 80 years in this high entertaining history. From a police commissioner who dresses like a clown, to a Nazi-fighting witch who speaks in rhyme, to a man who turns into a UFO to fight evildoers, to a superhero who fights shoe-themed bad guys with his shoes while making shoe puns, this book is a terrific resource for the comic history buff with an excellent sense of humour.

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This book was another one I won from a Goodreads First Reads contest. I thought it sounded like an interesting idea, but I wasn’t passionately interested like when I won Felicia Day’s memoir You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) or Anne Jamison’s fascinating study Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World. I was wrong–this book is terrific. The writing is highly informative and highly entertaining–Jon Morris clearly has a great deal of interest and affection for comic history, but he also recognizes how absurd and badly done some of it is.

The book is organized first by timeline, divided into the Golden Age, Silver Age, and Modern Age of Comics, with a summary of the sate of comics at the time, and then alphabetically by the superhero’s alias. Each hero has approximately a page’s description, accompanied by a full page of coloured imagery, either a cover of an interior page of story. Morris also includes the creator and first appearance of each hero, and another joking fact, such as Amazing-Man’s “Great act of bravery: Wearing shorts and suspenders as a superhero costume” or Doctor Hormone’s “Adherence to basic medical ethics: Spotty.” Many of the heroes chosen are quite obscure, making only or two appearances before hanging up their tights.

It’s hard to decide which is better, Morris’ skillful and delightful writing, or the engaging illustrations included with each entry. The art does a wonderful job of showing the development of comics over the years, how heroes have been portrayed visually, and the marketing of comics since many of the illustrations are of covers that would have been used to help sell the issues. The entries wouldn’t have been as effective without the large full-colour artwork, and it’s fortunate that Quirk Books was willing to include it–black and white art wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.

Honestly, I think the only thing I didn’t like about this book is the dropcaps that start each page–sometimes the large shadows on the letters make them a little difficult to read, but that’s really quite minor.

The League of Regrettable Superheroes is an engaging read for superhero fans, especially those with a lively sense of humour about the heroes they love and respect but also understand possess many foibles, and not a regrettable book at all.

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