Hello brothers and sisters!
Welcome to another episode of TEX'S BACK-ISSUE QUEST!
Today, we talk about one of Jack Kirby's most unsung creations:
Here is my copy of Showcase #6, published in 1957, featuring the very first appearance of the Challengers of the Unknown!! The Challengers of the Unknown are Walter "Prof" Haley, master skin diver; Matthew "Red" Ryan, circus daredevil; Lester "Rocky" Davis, Olympic wrestling gold-medalist; and Kyle "Ace" Morgan, jet pilot and war hero. All are on their way to speak on a radio program called Heroes when their plane is caught in a sudden and deadly storm. The plane crashes, but miraculously, they all survive almost unscathed. All four men, acknowledging that they should be dead, and that they are living on borrowed time, agree to work together as a team to seek out, and challenge, the unknown!
In the years after WWII, superhero comics had largely lost their popularity. In their stead horror, suspense, and sci-fi stories had taken over the comics medium. Kirby had taken to drawing a few of these types of stories in titles like Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery for Atlas Comics. When Kirby went to work for DC in the late 50's, he decided to call on his previous experience drawing regular humans, in the aforementioned types of stories, battling monsters and alien threats with only their wits, their skills and their courage as their weapons. Usually, he had done it with one protagonist, but this time he gave us four - and so was born the Challengers of the Unknown! On to the fun facts:
FUN FACT 1 - Stories vary, but Kirby either co-created the Challenges with his old partner, Joe Simon, or with the writer credited for the story: Dave Wood.
FUN FACT 2: The Challengers of the Unknown were the Suicide Squad before there was a Suicide Squad. In "Comic Books and the Cold War, 1946-1962,"Kirby calls the Challengers "a suicide squad...They are the men who take the risks." The Suicide Squad that we know today would have it's origins as Task Force X in 1959.
FUN FACT 3: Kirby only stayed on the Challengers for twelve issues - he was constantly fighting with editors and publishers. He returned to Atlas Comics, which soon would become Marvel Comics, and began the Marvel Age of comics with Stan Lee.
FUN FACT 4: In 1961, just four years later, Kirby and Lee created the Fantastic Four which are obviously inspired by the Challengers of the Unknown - the F4 had a similar origin, similar jumpsuits and a similar physical appearance to the Challengers of the Unknown, the obvious differences being the added superpowers, and the switching out of one male hero for a female hero, Sue Storm - see FUN FACT 5.
FUN FACT 5: But wait! The Challengers had a girl teammate named June Robbins (1st app in Showcase #7), a computer genius and archeologist. Hmm. The F4 similarities are piling up.
FUN FACT: If you love Silver Age DC Comics, a sure bet for collecting would be Showcase vol 1. The Silver Age of superheroes begins with the first appearance of Barry Allen, the Flash, in the pages of Showcase #4 in 1956. The Challengers of the Unknown appear in Showcase #6. Space Ranger debuts in Showcase #15. Adam Strange debuts in Showcase #17. Rip Hunter bursts on the scene in Showcase #20. Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, first appears in Showcase #22. The Sea Devils enter the DCU in Showcase #27. Showcase #30 gives us the first origin story of the Silver Age Aquaman. In Showcase #34, Ray Palmer, The Atom, first appears. The Metal Men grab the stage for the first time in Showcase #37. And there is so much more, but TEX is tired of typing. LOL!
Check out the Challengers of the Unknown. Whether fighting huge monsters, or the occult, or time-traveling, these daring adventurers are the tops.
Thanks for reading!