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'The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains' Is a Read You Won’t Regret

All images Amazon/Quirk Books

For a book about the worst of comic book bad guys, The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains isn’t bad at all. In fact, it’s good fun.


The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains: Oddball Criminals from Comic Book History

Publisher: Quirk Books
Length: 256 pages
Author: Jon Morris
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2017-03
Amazon

When it comes to comic books, a hero is only as good as his or her villains. While you might be familiar with foes like the Joker, the Green Goblin, or maybe Ultron, chances are you’ve never heard of Sadly-Sadly, Uzzi the Clown, or The Scarlet Beetle. And for good reason. However, author Jon Morris is out to change that with The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains.

Morris, a cartoonist and graphic designer, began surveying the stranger side of comics on his blog “Gone & Forgotten” many years ago before publishing The League Regrettable Superheroes with Quirk Books. In this follow-up volume, The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains, Morris explores more than a hundred of the strangest comic book villains to find their way onto paneled pages since 1938.

The new, equally enjoyable volume follows the same format as Regrettable Superheroes as it compiles brief overview of each of the included villains. There’s a brief synopsis of each antagonist alongside Morris’ reliably droll commentary. One of the best aspects of the collection is that vintage full-color artwork is also showcased for each rogue. Some villains are shown on a comic book cover while others are revealed via full pages of long-forgotten issues so you can see from characters like Bloor, the dictator of Uranus, in action -- for better or for worse.

Morris surely had more source material to choose from for this volume, as there are countless comic book villains in the history of the medium. When it comes to comics, there are easily way more bad guys than good guys. Even a superhero that had his book canceled after a single year of publication has probably faced at least half a dozen different foes along the way. This may make Morris’ selections questionable for some fanboys, who may argue, for example, that nothing about Iron Man villain MODOK is “regrettable”, or who may ponder why a villain as equally dull and obscure as Cat Girl (a Catwoman knock-off circa 1962) made the cut.

The entries are categorized into three chronological sections: The Golden Age (1938-1949), The Silver Age (1950-1969), and the Modern Age (1970-today). This organization not only provides some consistency for readers, but it also goes to show you that each passing decade is not without some ridiculous ideas for villains. The selections run the gamut from rip-offs of The Joker like Bull’s-Eye or the Clown to disturbing World War II-inspired villains like the Dictator, a literal combination of Hitler and Satan. Included are lesser-known Marvel villains like Mr. Fish and Stilt-Man and uncanny oddities like the bodybuilding mutant chicken Powerhouse and Swarm, an adversary made entirely of not just any bees -- Nazi bees.

Some of the included villains seemed to be doomed to never stand the test of time simply thanks to their name alone, like The Generic Man, The Dude, Ugly Man, and He-She. Others are perhaps deemed regrettable by their powers like Batroc the Leaper who, as you may guess, is especially good at leaping or Police Comics’ BrickBat, a crook who dresses like Batman but insists on exclusively throwing a bricks at his victims.

As with his Regrettable Superheroes book, Morris does sometimes go for the obvious, irreverent jokes, but you can’t blame him. They work. However, what’s more impressive is how the author also takes time to explain the merits of even the most laughable characters, even if a character is (accurately) described as a leering, mustachioed, giant sentient egg larger than a ten-story building (“Egg Fu”).

Take, for example, the aforementioned Egg Fu. Morris writes, “To Egg Fu’s credit, he accomplishes something no other supervillain had yet been able to do: he destroys Wonder Woman and her paramour Steve Trevor, reducing them to ash. (They get better by the end of the story, don’t worry.)”

All in all, there’s something to be said for the surprising level of regard Morris holds for the material, no matter how peculiar or embarrassing. As Morris’ writes in the introduction, “Every one of them had the potential to join the ranks of comicdom’s icons of iniquity. It was only poor sales, inopportune timing, and occasional overshadowing from bigger baddies that consigned so many of these scoundrels to the scrapheap…”

His commentary is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but if the premise of the book seems remotely intriguing to you, there’ll be plenty of smiles along the way and more to learn that you might presume as you read about these oddball adversaries.

As with the previous volume, if you pick up The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains expecting continuous humor, you’ll be surprised that there are more insights about the nature of the comic industry and trends in popular culture than straightforward words of comedy in this enjoyable collection. For a book about the most ludicrous of comic book bad guys, that’s not bad at all.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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