Armagideon Time

When I launched Nobody’s Favorites eight (?!?) years ago, I promised myself that it would not turn into another one of the many “Mort of the Month” features which infested the comics blogosphere at the time. The goal wasn’t pummeling a succession of soft targets in a context-free vacuum, but to use the dimmer lights of funnybook history as a means of exploring some relevant autobiographical or critical angle.

While I think I (mostly) succeeded on that front, things eventually hit a point where the requisite “value added” became harder to pull off. There are only so many ways to approach the Chromium Age boom-and-bust cycle or the one-note nature of Marvel Team-Up villains before entering the real of autoplagiarism. As real life events began cutting into my research and reading time, the temptation to pick easy targets for cheap snark grew stronger. Meanwhile, Jon Morris’s return to Gone and Forgotten obviated the need for what began as a G&F tribute act.

At no point did I considered permanently retiring Nobody’s Favorites. I let it go fallow while my attentions were concentrated elsewhere.

But now it’s back, with a renewed focus on its original mission statement — a focus on funnybook things neither great nor terrible, but just sorta there. They may be fondly regarded or even earnestly liked, but lack the level of dedicated fandom that makes them anybody’s sincere favorite.

So let’s kick things off with a character I honestly like yet can’t say I love….

…Quality Comics’ Human Bomb, who made his debut in Police Comics #1 (August 1941).

Created by Paul Gustavson (under the pen name of Paul Carroll), the Human Bomb was a research chemist named Roy Lincoln who was helping his pa synthesize “27-QRX” — the most powerful explosive known to man.

The compound was so destructive and volatile that the Elder Lincoln worried about what would happen if it should fall into enemy hands — so, naturally, the lab was rushed by a gaggle of Fifth Columnist goons the moment after the old man finishes is portentous speech. After the goons finish off his dad, Roy decided the best way to keep the Axis from nabbing the only sample of the formula was to eat the damn thing.

(I suppose it could’ve been worse. His dad could’ve been involved in top secret research on cat litter, broken glass, or Taco Bell food.)

This being a superhero comic, the chemical miraculously infused Roy’s body with raw explosive power. His punches could explode walls, his bare skin could disintegrate bullets, his poops could make him the most unwelcome house guest ever. Roy used his new abilities to wipe the Fifth Columnists (and his father’s mansion) off the face of the earth, vowing bloody vengeance upon whoever sent them.

Needing a means of controlling his pyrotechic powers, Roy whipped himself up a containment suit of “fibro-wax” before exploding his way up the chain of underlings in search of their Nazi paymaster. When he did finally (as in “two pages later”) encounter him, Roy’s revenge was as fittingly horrific and thankfully off-panel.

Though the Human Bomb’s adventures began on a note of vengeful payback via explosive decapitation, his five year run of stories settled into a lighter territory. Presumably taking a page from Police Comics’ emerging flagship feature, Gustavson — consciously or subconsciously — began to hew closer to the dynamic style and semi-comedic tone of Jack Cole’s Plastic Man stories.

It wasn’t a full-on attempt at cloning, but it was still obvious — right down to the Bomb getting saddled with his own version of Woozy Winks in the form of Hustace Throckmorton…

…a henpecked nebbish who gained the enviable power of explosive feet following an almost fatal attempt to mimic the Black Condor’s flying ability and a blood transfusion from a reluctant Roy. Hustace injected an additional does of comic relief, mostly in the form of evergreen and tasteful jokes about things like spousal murder and “red-nosed” drunken Irishmen.

It truly was a Golden Age for comics.

After his Police Comics run ended in 1946, the Human Bomb spent a couple of decades in limbo before getting revived — along with a host of other Quality characters purchased by DC — during one of the annual Justice League/Justice Society crossovers. There it was revealed that stable of heroes hailed from Earth-X, a low calorie The Man in the High Castle scenario where the Bomb and his fellow “Freedom Fighters” battled the forces of a triumphant Axis.

That in turn led to a short lived Freedom Fighters series, followed by appearances in All-Star Squadron, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and all the other regular places Golden Age backbenchers turned up over the years. The character was inexplicably aged into a mentor figure for the similarly powered Damage in the Nineties, then de-aged so Geoff Johns could attempt a shitty Pat Mills impersonation in Infinite Crisis #1…

…also know as “the moment when I stopped giving a shit about contemporary superhero comics.”

Honestly, though, the poor Bomb had been at a loss ever since his Bronze Age return. As part of an ensemble cast, the character was little more than a one-note gimmick — the explode-y dude stuck in a containment suit. Of the few moments where he did manage to nab the center stage, most involved some mishap where he accidentally flattened his teammates at an inopportune moment.

It was a far cry from the Bomb’s days as a solo adventurer, where his signature gimmick was saved for dramatic moments between non-pyrotechnic bouts of quippy thug-punching. Gustavson’s restraint on that front may have undercut the character’s unique qualities compared to other costumed mystery men of the era, but it did prevent the slide into single-note predictability that defined the Bomb’s more modern appearances. It also didn’t help that the streamlined simplicity of Gustavson’s original costume design seemed to elude later illustrators, who opted for a baggier and bulkier look for Bomb’s containment suit that made him look like a mediocre Mindless Ones cosplayer.

(Despite the 1970s Freedom Fighters comic making a big deal about finding a way for Roy to ditch the suit during his off hours, he actually spent a good deal of time in the Police Comics run sporting a fashionably broad-shouldered men’s suit and a pair of fibro-wax driving gloves. The tragic volatility of his powers was very much a Bronze Age conceit.)

Since his (stupidly tasteless) demise in Infinite Crisis, the Human Bomb has spawned of a pair of forgettable legacy characters, a Heroclix figure (based on one of said legacy characters), and a non-speaking appearance in the Brave and the Bold animated series. A miniseries featuring the latest incarnation of the character was released a couple of years back, and defied expectations by shifting upwards of a dozen copies. Someone at DC obviously has some fondness for the concept, yet so far has been unable to translate that past the vagaries of copyright maintenance which govern the cycles of d-lister appearances.

I myself have a small amount of affection for the Dauntless Detonator, though nothing approaching anything remotely close to dedicated fandom. He’s a fun bit of fluff from a time when the concept of superhero comics was getting fleshed out in fits and starts and all manner of oddness. The Human Bomb is a perfect example of the latter, mildly fascinating but Nobody’s Favorite.

5 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorites: Exploding myths”

  1. Chris Gumprich

    My favorite Human Bomb exchange came from the classic FREEDOM FIGHTERS #4, between Roy and some fat bureaucrat-type. I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like:

    “What’s that smell? Don’t people on Earth-X bathe?”

    followed by Roy ranting at him because it was his fault they were stuck on Earth-1 so he couldn’t change out of his suit to shower so “if the air gets a little ripe around here…”

    “It’s. All. Your. Fault. You. Turkey!”

  2. Brad

    You know they originally wanted to call it Earth-Swastika because the Nazis won, but X was the closest substitute.

  3. MrJM

    For me, the most confounding facet of this character is the idea that his father — or anyone — was “a famous explosives expert.”

    1940s celebrity culture was weird.

    — MrJM

  4. Cg

    That gruesome Infinite Crisis page was, of course, written by the guy who says he wants to bring “love and optimism” to DC.

  5. Decker

    I’m no Bizarrologist, but if he says he likes the Human Bomb and pretty lights, doesn’t it mean he hates them? So doesn’t his disappointment in the final box screw up his characterization within the space of ten panels? That’s some fancy writin’.

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