There was a time when Iron Man was considered too low on the superhero ladder to warrant his own film, but after years in development limbo Marvel cracked the idea and kicked off one of the most successful superhero franchises in history. But what about the also-ran “-Men”; the weird, high-concept characters that seem doomed to stay on the page? When will their time come? Meet a few of our favourites…
Alter Ego: Patrick “Eel” O’Brien
Origins: Launched in 1941 in Quality Comics, Plastic Man owes his creation to writer-artist Jack Cole. Patrick O’Brien was a safe-cracking burglar shot while pulling a job with his gang at the Crawford Chemical Works and doused with the contents of a mysterious drum of liquid. Somehow escaping the cops, he ended up at a monastery where a monk cared for him and inspired him to become a hero. He discovered that he can now bend, twist and shape his body into any form. A stretchy superhero was born! In 1956, Quality Comics shut down and DC acquired many of its characters, folding the bendy benchmark into its stable. He’s since made appearances alongside some of the most famous Justice League types and even made the cover of the New Yorker in 1999. Take that, Tony Stark!
Film chances? He’s one of the few on our list to merit serious consideration from Warners. The studio, in collaboration with Amblin, took a stab at the idea in the early 1990s, with future Matrix creators Andy and Lana Wachowski working up a screenplay in 1995. Years later, they considered the idea again and floated the idea past Keanu Reeves. Plastic may not be as cool and futuristic a material as it was in 1941, but in these yoga-crazed times there's always time for a bendy hero.
Tagline generator: Justice Is No Stretch For Him!
Alter Ego: Chuck Handler
Origins: Roy Thomas created the character for Marvel Premiere in 1977. The stories are set in the 1950s, and find Chuck Handler as a NASA test pilot at the controls of the XF-13 rocket plane when he has the misfortune to run into perennial Marvel alien bastards, the Skree. Captured by the creatures, he escapes but is exposed to strange radiation when their saucer explodes. Found after crashing his plane in the Mojave Desert, a two-dimensional image of Chuck is imprinted on the glasses of his disabled brother, Hal. When Hal concentrates, he can bring Chuck back into three dimensions with tripled speed, durability and senses. Together the brothers fought the Skree and other baddies until Hal decided to ditch the whole hero thing and settle down into married life. At least that is, until they met Bruce Banner and 3-D Man agreed to re-emerge to ward off The Hulk.
Film chances: Even with 3D’s recent cinematic resurgence, no one has seemed interested in the concept. Looks like he’ll stay forever on Hal’s glasses. Hope Hal reads some interesting books…
Tagline generator: Triple The Power! Triple The Action!
Alter Ego: Curt Cowan
Origins: Some are born great; others have greatness thrust upon them. Dynamic Man was built for the gig. Literally. As crafted by Daniel Peters for Marvel forerunner Timely Comics in 1940, he’s an android constructed by genius scientist Professor Goettler. Unfortunately, the Prof became a little too excited while throwing the switch to activate his creation and died, which does make us rather wonder about his motives. Dynamic Man possesses some of the standard powers: enhanced strength, intelligence, flight, X-ray vision and shape shifting.But weirdly, despite that last power, he still dons a costume to work in his heroic identity. We're not sure he'd thought this through. For his day job, he was an FBI agent named Curt Cowan.
Film chances: He’s a genital-free Ken doll droid disgusted by all forms of sex, who regularly threatens to kill people. Unless The Daily Mail needs a superhero film to finance, he seems unlikely to make it to the screen as written.
Tagline generator: No Balls. All Powerful.
Alter Ego: None.
Origins: Little is known about Moon Man, including the identity of his creator, though we do know he launched in 1940. An independently wealthy type (he owned his own penthouse, which even included a secret entrance for his car – no idea where he got that idea!), he started his entirely non-superpowered heroic existence by tracking down a man who made orphans sick by feeding them cheap, unsafe meat. After deciding to become a hero, he preferred to stay in costume at all times – weird, but okay – and only went out during the full moon, the slacker. The U.S. Army recruited him when the States entered World War II, and he fought several battles before taking a bullet to the throat in Belgium, whereupon he died. In stark contrast to everyone else in comics, he has never come back.
Film chances: If a throwback like The Spirit can’t be made to work on the big screen, we have little hope for a man who – and we can’t emphasise this enough – only works when the moon is full. So… he’s a were-hero?
Tagline generator: Making Crime Quake In Its Boots One Night A Month.
Alter Ego: Daniel Rose (2008 onwards)
Origins: Birthed during the pre-Marvel, Timely Comics era, Rockman’s creators are lost to the mire of in-house teams in those early days, though Stan Lee and artist Basil Wolverton were among those involved. Originally the leader of an underground race living in a kingdom known as Abyssmia, he was said to be a descendent of the first white colonists to arrive in North America. Annoyed by the ravages of World War II, he emerges to help the U.S. in its effort. In 2008, the character was drafted into a title called The Twelve, in which a group of heroes were captured by the Nazis, put in suspended animation and discovered years later. His origin was shifted to become part of a tale told by young Danielle Rose about her ancestor, Daniel, a miner who stood up to a corrupt boss and ended up in a man-made cave-in. Exposed to mutagenic gas, he dug himself out and discovered he had new abilities, such as superhuman speed, strength, toughness and digging proficiency. He’s also pretty much insane.
Film chances: Like many of his World War II contemporaries, Rockman has generated little interest from filmmakers. It seems he’s doomed to be lost to history for now.
Tagline generator: Rock On!
Alter Ego: Thomas Wayne II, Thomas Wayne Jr.
Origins: Created in 1964 as an evil counterpart to Batman – because owls prey on bats, see – Owlman was originally a smart supervillain dreamt up by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky. The first incarnation had the power to briefly control people’s minds, but it wasn’t enough to save him from death during the Crisis On Infinite Earths arc. He was revived with a new background in the late 1990s for the Justice League: Earth 2 series. This time, he was the older brother of Bruce Wayne who survived the death of his mother and sibling to become his own brand of vigilante, with a grudge against his police captain dad. He also kicks off an affair with Superwoman, wife of this twisted universe’s Clark Kent, AKA Ultraman. We’re surprised he didn’t die again, this time by having his face super-punched into oblivion.
Film chances: DC and Warners are a little too busy trying to re-invent Batman again to give him a shot, and the whole alternate universe is a bit confusing. Plus, despite Watchmen’s best efforts, owl-suited crusaders just don’t seem to have that cool edge the kids are craving.
Tagline generator: Woo’s Bad?
Alter Ego: Dr. Bruce Dickson
Origins: He’s credited to artist Klaus Nordling and an unknown writer on the Marvel Comics payroll in 1940. Sometime in the 1930s, scientist and explorer Dr. Bruce Dickson is trying to climb Mount Kalpurthia in the Himalayas when he stumbles upon the lost civilization of Kalahia. Instead of being angry that he disturbed their centuries-old isolation, they see fit to grant him eternal youth, incredible resilience and the ability to become super-stretchy and thin. If it sounds familiar, give him some credit: Thin Man was developed a year before Plastic Man and more than two decades before Mr. Fantastic stretched onto the scene. In later years, he was a Nazi-battling hero alongside Captain America.
Film chances: We doubt Marvel will rush to try to squeeze him into the third Cap film, especially since one of his notable acts is squeezing the life out of Nazi villain Agent Axis when he discovers the Nazis destroyed the Kalahia valley and killed his wife, which is just a bit too weird.
Tagline generator: He’s The Thin Line Between Order And Chaos!
Alter Ego: Gustav Hertz
Origins: We’re not sure what Paul Gustavson and Al Bellman were smoking when they created this guy for Marvel in 1941, but it was clearly potent. Meet Gustav Hertz, a hapless worker in a German mechanical laboratory who catches his arms in one of the machines and has them both amputated. Years of training to use his feet and his specially sharpened teeth as replacements for his arms and hands later, he goes on a rampage against machines of all forms. Seeing some potential use for this narrow rage, the Gestapo send him to America where he ends up in an epic fight against a mutant known as Angel (not the future X-Man). He’s eventually incapacitated when Angel jams a piece of piping in his mouth.
Film chances: He’s a bloke with no arms using his teeth and feet to fight. We fear that Monty Python and The Holy Grail put paid to any hope that he'd be taken seriously.
Tagline generator: He’s Far From Armless!
Alter Ego: He’s just Tigerman.
Origins: The specific creators of the 1940s Marvel character are lost to history, though they owe a significant debt to Edgar Rice Burroughs and Tarzan. A jungle-dwelling hero whose origins are yet to be revealed, his best friend is an ape called Rangoo, with whom he can communicate. In his first outing, Tigerman meets Professor Carson and his daughter Louise, helping them escape the deadly Monolink Tribe and saving the damsel in distress from a sinking ship that claims the life of her father. Hassle-free girlfriend score! Unfortunately for the couple, their future adventures were not chronicled, so we’ll never know if they broke up under pressure from Tigerman’s close friendship with Rangoo.
Film chances: Low to very poor, though the fact that he doesn’t have a real origin story and only one proper adventure means he’s a blank slate for filmmakers. And he’s just sitting there, waiting for someone to graft an unwieldy environmental message on to his story.
Tagline: Catch This Tiger!
Alter Ego: Kenneth Hale
Origins: If we’re being strictly accurate, Gorilla-Man has enjoyed three different alter egos, but we’re focusing on Ken Hale, created by Bob Powell for Mystery Tales in 1954, which was later subsumed into Marvel. Ken is a happy-go-lucky soldier of fortune, who both enjoyed putting his life in danger for kicks and lived his life terrified of death. When he learns of an African legend that states whoever kills the magical Gorilla-Man becomes immortal, he is tricked by the creature itself into killing it and discovers the harsh truth when he becomes the new Gorilla-Man. Should’ve seen that one coming a mile off, buddy. He ended up helping out the X-Men, the Avengers and Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos.
Film chances: This one actually has a compelling moral lesson at its core and with Peter Jackson’s King Kong and Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes proving you can create realistic CG simians, it’s entirely possible. Avengers 3, maybe?
Tagline: Go Ape!
Alter Ego: None.
Origins: He’s a man-thing made up of molten rock. Where do you think he came from? Yep, a volcano. First showing up in Tales Of Suspense #7 in the 1960s, he’s the creation of Marvel legends Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. After escaping from a volcano on a South Pacific Island, he stumbles into a nearby village, where he meets and threatens pilot Frank Harper, who is there trying to enjoy a relaxing holiday. Harper eventually blasts the creature with cool air from a wind tunnel, whereupon it crawls back to the volcano and falls in. Job done. End of.
Film chances: He only really has potential as a lesser villain in one of Marvel’s movies. We don’t like his chances of scoring his own franchise.
Tagline generator: Lava Hot Excitement!
Alter Ego: Wilhelm Lohmer
Origins: He’s the Nazi Captain America! No, really: first appearing in the 1970s Marvel title Giant Size Invaders, he was birthed by Frank Robins and Roy Thomas as a frail type who agrees to be injected with the Nazi version of the super-serum and becomes a powerful warrior rechristened Master Man and given his own Swastika-sporting costume. Since then, he’s gone up against Cap and company during World War II, travelled in time a little and been reborn twice by different creators for other titles. Oh, and Hitler wanted him to marry Julia Koenig, a similarly super-powered Nazi favourite, in order to birth the Aryan master race. But their wedding day bliss was interrupted when the priest was squashed by falling rubble from a battle. We hate it when that happens.
Film chances: As a potential villain for a Captain America movie, sure, though the Marvel Cinematic Universe has so far relied upon Red Skull as its serum-enhanced bad guy.
Tagline generator: A Nazi Piece Of Work!
Alter Ego: Meranno
Origins: First brought to life in the 1970s Invaders comics by Master Man duo Frank Robbins and Roy Thomas, the superhuman U-Man grew up in Atlantis alongside Namor The Sub-Mariner. Hating Namor all his life, he allies himself with Nazi Germany, reveals the Atlanteans’ location to his superiors and is responsible for the destruction of the Atlantis fleet. He then proceeds to fight alongside U-Boats during World War II before Captain America and The Invaders stop him. He joins up with other villains for a while before eventually becoming a reluctant ally for the Avengers.
Film chances: Tough to pull off, but we’d be up for it if he perishes in an undersea explosion and someone exclaims, “Oh, the U-Manity!”
Tagline generator: Mer-Mad With Power!
Alter Ego: None.
Origins: He’s a man-fish. A fish-man. A man who is also a fish. Do you need to know more? All right, fine: comics-wise, Jack Kirby created him for a 1977 issue of the Captain America comic. In story terms, he was the result of one of Arnim Zola’s experiments, designed as a villain to attack Cap. We’re really hoping he’s not the result of Zola getting intimate with a haddock. Despite enhanced strength and endurance, he was easily defeated. Please note that he has nothing to do with Mr. Fish, created for the Luke Cage comics as a petty-thief-turned-radioactive fish-monster man thing with the catchphrase “No-one laughs at Mr. Fish!”. He’s the power-mad piscine person who once visited a strip club with comically inept supervillain the Walrus, where they were entertained by an obese stripper. We’re not sure why we keep mentioning this.
Film chances: He might be able to breathe underwater, but he shouldn’t hold his breath for a big screen debut any time soon. He’s probably a little too silly for the current MCU.
Tagline generator: Something’s Fishy!
Alter Ego: Dr. Kirk Langstrom
Origins: Bet you can’t guess which superhero he first faced… That’s right, Superman. No, we kid, it is of course Batman. Man-Bat first came about in a 1970 issue of Detective Comics, created by Frank Robbins and Neal Adams. Bat-obsessed scientist Dr. Kirk Langstrom is tinkering with a serum to give humans bat-like powers, which would be especially useful to him since he’s going deaf. But the seemingly successful solution has a serious side effect: it turns him into the terrifying Man-Bat! Eventually, Batman is able to take him down and reverse the transformation, but foolish Langstrom later dabbles with the stuff once again, turning his wife into She-Bat. Occasionally in his appearances, he retains enough of his intelligence to work as a hero instead of a beast.
Film chances: Probably a little too intense / insane for the current DC/Warners universe, and he’s likely low on the list for potential Justice League subjects or problems as well.
Tagline generator: You’ll Go Batty!
Alter Ego: Morris Bench
Origins: As co-created by Dennis O’Neil and John Romita, Jr. for an Amazing Spider-Man in 1981, he’s a fairly standard Spider-villain. Unlucky bystander Morris “Morrie” Bench is knocked overboard by Spidey during the hero’s battle with Namor. Affected by an experimental generator, he’s turned into a water creature. Somewhat understandably, he blames Spider-Man for this and goes after him. Since then, he’s tangled with the web-slinger several times, even merging with Sandman to become Mud-Thing for a while, the logistics of which we don’t care to speculate upon.
Film chances: Given that Sony is busy already developing a film based on the Sinister Six comprising much better known villains such as Doctor Octopus and the Vulture, we’d say ol’ Hydro has little chance of showing up in anything other than a cameo.
Tagline generator: Liquid Cool!
Alter Ego: Dr. Theodore “Ted” Sallis
Origins: Steve Gerber, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway and Gray Morrow conceived of this creature for Marvel’s Savage Tales in 1971. Bookworm genius scientist Ted Sallis has no idea of his connection to the creation of all things on Earth and no inkling that he is doomed to create the serum that will turn him into Man-Thing, the near immortal beast with a brain spread around its body and great strength. He’s since worked on both sides of the law, both targeting and helping heroes such as Thor, and has survived several apparent deaths, including being chopped up. Handy trick, and not bad for a living plant thing sometimes referred to as Mr. Salad.
Film chances: Ignoring the terrible telefilm that bears his name, we sort of want Marvel to try this one, only for the scene where he first arrives, announces who he is and waits for everyone to stop sniggering over the innuendo in his name. “Real mature, guys… are you done?”
Tagline generator: Half Man! Half Thing! All Man-Thing!
Alter Ego: Eugene Paul Patillo
Origins: Daddy issues are at the heart of this crime-fighter, originated by J.M. DeMatteis and Kerry Gammill in 1982 for Marvel Team-Up. His pop was a frustrated inventor who stumbled upon electrically powered coils that gave the wearer the ability to leap several stories high. He incorporated them into a suit and re-invented himself (pun intended) as a villain named Leap Frog. Paul instead chose to battle the forces of evil, taking one of his dad’s costumes and, after accidentally helping Spider-Man and The Human Torch take down Speed Demon, he named himself the Fabulous Frog-Man. Despite a seemingly stupid name and slightly silly abilities, he went on to help the Avengers and other heroes.
Film chances: We doubt he has much of a shot outside of a throwaway joke in a future Avengers movie. Sadly, the world just isn’t ready for a froggy hero, as the seven people who went to see Freddie As F.R.O.7 in 1992 can attest.
Tagline generator: Hop To It!
Alter Ego: Henry Hawk
Origins: Bob Powell and Wallace Wood fashioned this feathery fiend for Daredevil comics run in 1965. His specific origin wasn’t chronicled, but he was sent against the Man Without Fear as part of evil team the Ani-Men. Consistently a wrong ‘un, Henry Hawk wound up battling the X-Men and Spider-Man and even tangled with Iron Man. Unfortunately, he perished alongside the other Ani-Men when an assassin known as Spymaster blew up Count Nefaria’s base. He’s survived by three eggs and a lot of leftover cuttlefish bone. Actually, that’s a lie: he wasn’t actually a bird.
Film chances: About as good as Tweety joining the Justice League for a future DC/Warners title.
Tagline generator: He Has A Talon For Crime!
Alter Ego: Gilles Weill
Origins: Looking a little like a cross between a bearded John Lennon and Thor, Brother Brit-Man was created as part of the Captain Britain Corps by Alan Davis for Marvel’s Excalibur series in 1991. The Corps was intended as a team of guardians for the Multiverse, and all shared similar powers with Captain Britain, AKA Brian Braddock. Little is known about what Gilles got up to but from the looks of him, when he wasn’t protecting Earth-65, he enjoyed real ale and unwinding to Black Sabbath albums.
Film chances: Joss Whedon is an Anglophile, so we could perhaps see him one day suggest a Captain Britain movie. Just don’t expect Brother Brit-Man to be front and centre.
Tagline generator: For England!