3 forgotten DC superteams who definitely need their own movies

Justice League failed to crack the $100 million mark in its opening weekend at the box office, and while it’s easy to blame director Zack Snyder, mostly because it’s his fault, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it’s exponentially harder to launch a superteam on the big screen than a solo superhero movie. X-Men took six shots at it, with wildly mixed results, and every Fantastic Four movie has been a hate crime against comics.

In the next reboot, Marvel executives just show up to your house and slap you in the face with their dicks.

Even in this golden era of superhero movies, only the first Avengers and Captain America: Civil War have hit a home run with a full team on screen. There are probably many reasons for this, one being that the cost of bringing an entire team of superheroes to the screen would require a budget that could fund the space program, and it’s only recently that anyone could justify spending an obscene amount of money on idle entertainment. However, now that it is acceptable to waste money on movies that aren’t the product of a previously successful director having a mental breakdown, they shouldn’t be limited to just teams that have been continuously published since the 1960s.

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Comics history is littered with once-popular teams that got left behind, mostly because comic readers got super into horror and western stories in the ’50s for some reason. Here, I’ll be looking at three teams that DC could turn into awesome movies now that Justice League inevitably failed to live up to expectations.

1. The Seven Soldiers of Victory

A few months after the first appearance of the very first superhero team, the Justice Society of America, DC wanted to see if they could get lucky a second time and decided to grab whatever random superheroes they’d left out of the Society. Incidentally, this meant a team consisting of only non-powered heroes, not one of whom was Batman. Meet the Seven Soldiers of Victory!

Okay, technically Shining Knight has a magic sword and a flying horse, but those are accessories, not powers.

I’ve mentioned this team in passing before, but now it’s time to take an in-depth look at one of the most overlooked superhero teams of all time. Unlike the Justice Society, which rotated its members based mostly on who didn’t have their own book at the time, the Seven Soldiers always consisted of the same seven: Green Arrow, Speedy, Vigilante, Shining Knight, Crimson Avenger, Star-Spangled Kid, and Stripesy. Crimson Avenger’s racist caricature sidekick Wing was always around, too, but never an official member, because it was 1941 and finding new ways to exclude minorities was still a national pastime.

To add insult to injury, the other two sidekicks in the group were considered full members, even though one hadn’t even gotten through puberty yet.

The team originally came together when a terminally ill criminal mastermind named the Hand hired five supervillains with equally half-assed names (Big Caesar, the Needle, the Dummy, Professor Merlin, and the Red Dragon) to go on a crime spree on his behalf. Their respective heroic arch-nemeses band together to fight them, and thus a super-team is born.

The Soldiers didn’t stick around for long, appearing in 14 issues of Leading Comics, which eventually tossed them out on their asses to switch to an all-humor format. Then, in 1972, during a crossover between the Justice Society and the Justice League (who existed in alternate universes at the time), the Hand unexpectedly returns, though now calling himself the Iron Hand, which is slightly more imaginative, I guess, and he actually turns out to be a huge threat.

Apparently, the Ultimate Evil of DC looks like a sleep-deprived Vincent Price.

Having gained control of a doomsday weapon, Iron Hand holds the world hostage in true Dr. Evil fashion. The JLA and JSA discover through comic book bullshit magic that a group called the Seven Soldiers of Victory once defeated a similar being known as the Nebula Man, but were lost in time and forgotten as a result.

Thus, the JLA and JSA rescue the Soldiers out of the past like a couple of humpback whales and save the world. They also tried to half-heartedly throw Wing a bone where he’s revealed as the Unknown Soldier of Victory who sacrificed himself to destroy the Nebula Man. This would mark the team’s return to modern comics, and they’d appear on and off over the following decades, though they were eventually rebooted with Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers project, which had little in common with the original group, other than one character being a new female version of Shining Knight.

Remember when this was about non-powered heroes? Well, anyway, here’s a bunch of magic crap.

2. The Freedom Fighters

Quality Comics was one of many Golden Age rival companies that DC had decapitated in Highlander-style legal duels and whose heads were put on pikes to scare off others from attempting to publish superhero comics. As usual, DC looted as many characters from Quality as they could stuff into the trunk of their car, including Uncle Sam, Black Condor, the Ray, Dollman, Phantom Lady, and the Human Bomb. Then, for some reason, DC decided this random grab bag of forgotten superheroes would make an excellent team, and thus, the Freedom Fighters were born.

This plot is already a hundred times better than the Justice League movie.

When DC introduced the team in 1973, they retconned their origin as being an alternate Earth where the Axis won WW2 (which wasn’t a painful cliché yet at this point). This universe was supposed to be Earth-Swastika, but the censors started sending severed doll heads to the DC offices when they found out, so they settled for Earth-X. The Freedom Fighters summoned the Justice League from another dimension to come kick some Nazi ass, which unfortunately included the Nazi version of the Justice League itself.

“Hey, I’m not saying we’re the BAD guys; it just seems like we do a lot of genocide for superheroes.”

Having de-Nazi-fied their home dimension, there suddenly wasn’t much more freedom that they needed to fight for, so when they got their own title three years later, they ended up on Earth-1. They were almost immediately framed by the villain Silver Ghost and had to go on the run, like an even more flamboyant A-Team. Unfortunately, the title got cancelled before the story could be finished, and they’d still be running if the first Crisis hadn’t wiped out 40 years of comic backstory, including the Freedom Fighters.

“Hey, don’t worry, everybody! They say they’re on our side!”

With no Earth-X full of Nazis to fight, the Freedom Fighters were integrated into the main DC universe’s history, where they became some of the many heroes who were part of the All-Star Squadron in the 1940s. For all the good that did, since DC made up some ass-pull about American superheroes being unable to end WW2 in literally one afternoon by tossing Hitler into space because Hitler had managed to get his grubby little hands on the Spear of Destiny and could mind control any super-powered enemies setting foot in Axis territory. So winning the war was up to regular soldiers, and the occasional non-powered vigilante, while the literal personification of America was stuck back home fighting regular criminals and the occasional spy or fifth columnist.

That’s nice, Uncle Sam, but while you were doing that, 8 million people got gassed to death.

The most recent version of the team appeared in the aftermath of Infinite Crisis, where they fought the corrupt government agency SHADE, which had the goal of essentially establishing a kind of metahuman fascist government in the US, even replacing the president at one point with a literal evil robot. Unsurprisingly, Uncle Sam wasn’t crazy about that.

Okay, so DC doesn’t really do “subtle” very well.

 3. The Blackhawks

It wasn’t all about superheroes in the 1940s. Another popular format was war comics, which is kind of odd, since you’d think people would have had enough actual war at the time without needing additional fiction about it, but still, it was big. Among the most popular characters of the time were the Blackhawks, a team of ace pilots that debuted in the very aptly named Military Comics in 1941.

It just wouldn’t be a Golden Age comic without an offensive racial caricature.

The Blackhawks’ origin begins in 1939, during the invasion of Poland. One of the few surviving members of the Polish air force barely escapes an attack by Nazi commander Captain Von Tepp. Months later, the pilot resurfaces, now calling himself Blackhawk and leading a squadron of independent pilots, eventually revealed as being citizens from countries occupied by Nazi Germany and the Axis, such as Olaf (Norway), Andre (France), and the team’s needlessly racist sidekick Chop-Chop (China). As you can probably guess, Chop-Chop didn’t do much flying and was probably mostly kept around so the comic could fulfill some kind of hate quota for the publisher.

This is actually from the MAD Magazine parody of the Blackhawks, but it’s not that far off from how the actual comic treated him.

Uncomfortable racism aside, the comic was actually very entertaining, and at the peak of its popularity managed to outsell most other comics at the time with the exception of Superman, because let’s not get crazy here. After the first story dealt with Captain Von Tepp, the Blackhawks would take their war to the rest of the Nazi forces, though the villains they fought weren’t exactly historically accurate, unless you believe that Wolfenstein 3D was a documentary.

An engineering design only Cobra Commander could love.

However, due to their popularity, the Blackhawks would keep on adventuring past the end of the actual war, to the point that somehow they were finding Nazis to fight well into the 1950s. Eventually, the Blackhawks moved on to more standard adventure villains like monsters and robots. Then in 1956, Quality Comics went belly-up, and the Blackhawks were one of the many properties acquired by DC, who kept the series running uninterrupted as it was one of the few comic books that were still selling while the US was freaking out over communists. Eventually, the series began a descent into sci-fi, until finally DC made an utterly baffling decision to try and rebrand it as a superhero comic. The results were… well, remember how people acted like New Coke wiped its ass with the American flag? This series did that and cock-slapped the Lincoln Memorial.

When war veterans start dressing like this, you don’t force them to fight crime; you get them therapy!

“The New Blackhawks Era” was an unmitigated disaster, which was probably the inevitable result of turning war hero characters into superheroes that look like what you’d find drawn in a slow kid’s notebook. More recent appearances by the characters wisely pretend this era never happened.

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  • GreenLuthor

    Wing would eventually be (retroactively) considered an official member of the Seven Soldiers of Victory, when, post-Crisis, Green Arrow and Speedy were no longer active until well after WWII. (They also added Vigilante’s Asian caricature sidekick, “Stuff”, to the team, so there’d be seven Seven Soldiers, instead of the original eight. Comics!)

    In addition to the general sheer awfulness of the “superhero Blackhawks” era, you gotta love the fact that they gave Blackhawk himself the superhero name “Big Eye”. Guys? He was already going by the codename “Blackhawk”. Not only did he *already* have a superheroic name, but it was infinitely better than the one you tried to saddle him with. (But then, looking at Chuck’s ear-patterned pajamas, I find it hard to believe anyone involved with that revamp thought they were turning out anything of any level of quality…)

    • Deneb T. Hall

      Dude, I have to call foul on that ‘asian caricature’ bit. Have you read any of the original Vigilante comics? Stuff is actually one of the more positive Asian characters of the era; he was one of the few Asian sidekicks who WASN’T a caricature.

      • GreenLuthor

        My apologies, then. I really haven’t read the old Vigilante comics, and was operating under the assumption that Stuff would have been a caricature. (Because, let’s face it, if you were to assume a minority character in a Golden Age comic was an offensive caricature, you’d probably be right 99% of the time.) Maybe I should track down some of those original Vigilantes, then.

        Sorry, Stuff, I shouldn’t have disparaged you like that.

        • Deneb T. Hall

          I doubt you’d regret it – they’re worth reading. The Vig is a pretty cool character. It’s a little tricky to find his stuff in reprints these days, though, so if you’re interested in finding it on the ‘Net, here’s a quick way to do it.

          Go to your preferred search engine, and type in ‘fabuleous fifties vigilante’. That should take you to the ‘Fabuleous Fifties’ blog (and yes, that’s how it’s spelled), and one of the many Vigilante posts there. Click on the ‘Vigilante’ tag at the bottom, and you’ll have all the Golden Age Vig stories your heart could desire – definitely a good way to get caught up quickly.

  • Oh, man. That takes me back. I remember reading a Freedom Fighters comic at the barber shop when I was a kid. It was the only one I ever saw, and I was so lost! All I remember is that they had to rescue Black Condor from the electric chair (!) because the prison warden didn’t care about the governor’s pardon, or something like that.

    Come to think of it, that barber shop is also the only place I ever saw a Doom Patrol comic, which was even more confusing. Just a random assortment of comic books mixed in the pile of magazines. Who knows where they came from.

  • Greenhornet

    DC used to have a “Whatever Happened To…” feature that tied up a few loose ends for the older heroes and heroines. They gave the Scarlet Avenger a great end!

    He was dying from some crappy disease he had picked up in one of his adventures and was worried that while his rich playboy identity would be remembered, his superhero alter ego would be forgotten. His chance comes when SA steers a burning ship out of the harbor after capturing the hijackers and getting the crew to safety before the ship blows up.
    But no one saw him because of all the smoke!
    However, a woman remembers that The Scarlet Avenger had saved her baby on his way to the ship.

    PRICELESS!

    • Deneb T. Hall

      Agreed – great story. However, if you’ll allow me to be pedantic for a moment, it’s actually the CRIMSON Avenger, not the Scarlet.

      • Greenhornet

        Stupid me. I had an odd feeling about that, but I’m too lazy to look.
        BAD Greenhornet! No ice cream for you!

  • Chefe O’Hara

    In a funny retcon, Mark Waid and Barry Kitson’s “JLA: Year One” shows them giving up their super-heroic identities as soon as they appear before each other dressed as them for the first time.

    (By the way, it seems you are treating the Star-Spangled Kid –later Skyman– as a sidekick, when he was indeed the HERO, with Stripesy as the partner.)

    • Deneb T. Hall

      I could be wrong, but what I took away from that scene was that the Blackhawks had actually tried out those identities for a while, with spectacular lack of success, and then got back together and admitted ‘yeah – this was a terrible idea; let’s go back to how things were’.

      • Chefe O’Hara

        Thank you for the answer!

        Yeah, you are completely right: I was trying to see things through a more positive prism. It’s kind of sad to imagine they really acted in the fictional world while in that identities…

  • Thomas Stockel

    I don’t mind a Blackhawks movie or tv series, as long as you stay away from that horrible, horrible Howard Chaykyn mini series.

  • That post “Infinite Crisis” comic for the Freedom Fighters was quite good.
    They even used some fun terms for super villains, like Spin Doctor, Silent Majority, and Propaganda.