3 Justice League members who (probably) exist because someone lost a bet

Okay, so DC isn’t doing so hot these days, what with their increasingly desperate attempts at rebooting their movieverse falling flatter than a McRib promotion in Iran (other than that one chick flick they pretty much forgot to interfere with because they figured no one would want to see it anyway). Part of the problem is that you can tell that DC is really just cranking out these movies as fast as possible so they’ll have a foundation for the upcoming Justice League movie. They’re basically just 90-minute trailers that take 5 years to get through.

Unlike the 1997 Justice League TV pilot, which only FEELS like it takes 5 years to get through.

That said, the Justice League remains a strong brand, and if DC can just weather this run of bad luck, they might have a pretty decent film on their hands… That is, as long as they stick with the core group. See, a team that’s been around as long as the League has had a lot of turnover over the decades. You know how it is: sometimes Superman or Batman are tied up in other stories, and you make do with whatever characters aren’t busy in the latest crossover quagmire the chief editor pulled out of his ass to drum up sales. Or worse, characters that the editor is actively forcing you to use because he or she has a fanboy boner/regular boner for them. Incidentally, this also explains how Wolverine can be on three different teams at the same time over at Marvel.

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1. Vibe

A recurring problem with mainstream superheroes is that… well, they’re less diverse than a Klan meeting at a Chick-Fil-A. This is hard to get around, since most of them were created back when the only minority characters allowed were chauffeurs, maids, and the occasional sidekick that made minstrel shows look like NAACP rallies.

So clearly, more diverse characters were needed, right? Well, that was the intention when DC introduced several new characters in the early ’80s. Problem is, you’re kinda ignoring the underlying problem when one of those characters is Paco Ramone, AKA Vibe.

In the original pitch, Vibe just sleeps under a sombrero.

Vibe was one of the members of the near-universally maligned Justice League Detroit (both in-universe and out-universe), which formed after Aquaman dissolved the original League. Yeah, apparently he had the authority to do that, presumably after getting fed up with one too many “can only talk to fish” jokes. While Vibe’s power set was decent enough (having the ability to create sonic attacks), the problem with the character was that the writers had apparently never seen a Latino person outside of a Death Wish movie. While certain traits like the breakdancing can be overlooked, what’s less easy to ignore is that Vibe was a friggin gang leader.

As is every other male member of his family under age 30.

Granted, he gave up the position to join the League, but that seems like it’d be a bit of a black mark on his permanent record. What’s worse is that his former role got the League caught up in a fight with a rival gang. As you can probably guess, since Vibe was basically just a bunch of offensive stereotypes stuffed into an eye-searingly ugly unitard, he didn’t stick around for long. The Legends miniseries led to the Detroit League dissolving, after which he returned to his former neighborhood. However, he did get the honor of being one of the first League members to get murdered. Uh, go him?

I dunno, “strangled by disembodied robot hands” just lacks that dramatic oomph.

Ironically, despite his crap-tastic origins, Vibe has seen a successful revival as part of DC’s Arrowverse TV universe, though under the less terrible name Cisco Ramone, where he’s played by Carlos Valdes. This version is part of “Team Flash”, the supporting cast that assists Flash in fighting crime. And as you’ll notice, he doesn’t act like a human version of the Taco Bell dog. Turns out the secret to engaging minority characters is to spend more than 5 minutes on them and give them more traits than “keeping it real on the streets.”

“So, does he do Flash’s landscaping work or what?” —’80s DC execs

2. Congorilla

Our next entry is somewhat unusual, in that he wasn’t supposed to be a superhero at all. Our story begins in 1940, in issue #56 of More Fun Comics (look, it was the early 1940s, people had bigger worries than coming up with creative comic book titles). A character named Congo Bill first appears in what will become a long-running adventure strip, and his name is pretty indicative of what kind of adventures he’ll be having. For the most part, it’s a standard jungle adventure setting… that is, until 1959, when Congo Bill finds himself with a sudden body-hair problem.

Once again, a white guy gets a superhero role that should have gone to an actual gorilla.

See, this was the year when Congo Bill inherited a magic ring from a dying friend, which he found allowed him to change bodies with the magical Golden Gorilla (incidentally, the gorilla would go into his human body, which sounds like it could lead to some awkward social situations). In his new form, Congo Bill would fight crime in Africa, though not the actual crime they have in Africa, which is too horrible and depressing to even think about. The most interesting aspect of the character is really that he had a major role in Alan Moore’s unfinished pitch Twilight of the Superheroes, where he’s permanently taken over the gorilla body and works as a crime boss in a metahuman ghetto. You gotta admire Moore’s ability to take any Silver Age gobbledygook and turn it into The Wire.

If it was written by present day Alan Moore, there’d be a lot more gross sex scenes.

Unfortunately, this series never materialized, and instead, Congorilla would eventually end up joining the Justice League as part of the Cry for Justice series, an incarnation that boasted such prominent members as Second-Rate Captain Marvel, Starman Supporting Character No One Had Seen Since The ’90s, and Superfluous Batwoman. The idea behind this series had been that a new Justice League forms to be more “proactive” dealing with crime, which apparently meant acting like they were working the night shift at Guantanamo.

“Torturing suspects is okay if you’re angry at them.”

Congorilla’s motivation in this sudden penchant for civil rights violations was the death of a pack of gorillas he had been protecting, alongside the death of his friend Freedom Beast, another terrible African superhero. What makes this extra ridiculous is that DC tried to make us take the “edgy” tone of Cry for Justice seriously when there’s a fucking talking gorilla right there. Congorilla might have fit in in the ’60s when all they did was fight aliens and their own evil counterparts from alternate universes and whatnot, but if you’re trying to make a gritty story with a bunch of people in tights, the magic gorilla really isn’t helping your case.

“We’ll never forget you, character we reintroduced just to kill off for cheap drama.”


3. Triumph

Sadly, not that Triumph.

Okay, so we’ve talked about Vibe, who was a well intentioned idea that just didn’t work because the writers didn’t know what they were doing, and Congorilla, who at least had the excuse of originating from a very silly time. Unfortunately, our final entry can’t even be enjoyed even on an ironic basis.

This is the story of Triumph. Back in 1994, DC had the bright idea to do a storyline where a superhero named Triumph emerges from dimensional stasis and reveals that he was one of the founders of the Justice League, but his existence was retroactively erased by his stasis (you might recognize this concept as the one Marvel reused for the Sentry). Problem was, Triumph was insufferable.

God, he’s even got the dreaded Glowing ’90s Eye.

Triumph’s gimmick was basically that he was too awesome, and he was angry that no one remembered how awesome he was. While he originally appeared as a villain, he was brought back as a hero and eventually a member of the League. The fan response was immediate: everyone hated the guy. Not only were his powers so vaguely defined he could basically do anything if the writer felt like it, he combined an unlikable smugness with a comical sense of entitlement, much like if Donald Trump were a superhero.

Both of them have that vague “Jersey Shore” haircut that looks like it smells like Cheetos and energy drinks.

The character eventually sold his soul to get his lost years back and ended up returning to villainy, having been reduced to selling Justice League memorabilia just to pay his rent and basically moping around over his failed career like a communications major. He teamed up with the reality-warping imp Lkz to set up a fake disaster that the League couldn’t stop, letting him be the big hero. Lkz, of course, was intending to double-cross him the whole time and destroy the world, what with him being a supervillain and all. Triumph finally met an ignoble end, being turned into ice by the Spectre. At first, he was kept at the League HQ as a monument so people would at least remember him, if not fondly, but he met a surprise end when Grant Morrison destroyed the building in one of his stories and forgot that Triumph was even in there. So he decided to just go with it and said that he was dead for real now. That’s right: Triumph was killed by complete accident because the head writer forgot he existed. These days, he’s just occasionally referenced mostly for how quickly everyone forgot about him, like when a child actor doesn’t move on to robbing convenience stores when he turns 13.

When your debut issue is this douchey, you deserve what you get.

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  • Wow, I completely missed the Triumph Train.

    • Thomas Stockel

      You didn’t miss much. I remember that era and he was a very forgettable character. I think the concept had potential but he was handled badly. As the author pointed out, his personality sucked and his powerset was a little too vague. If he had been handled by a better writer, who knows?

  • I only ever read the JLA comic in which he showed up as a forgotten hero. I didn’t even know there was anything else about him, assuming the meta-joke and his death were are there was to the character. Seemed like the kind of idea that Morrison would do.

  • Deneb T. Hall

    OK, I can’t comment on Triumph, since I haven’t read any of his stuff, but as for the other two:

    If Vibe has seen improvement over the years, surely that’s a sign that he’s not really all THAT bad of a character? I mean, again, I haven’t read much with him in it, but any character who can stick around in some form must have SOMETHING better to him. (Incidentally, it’s not just ‘Arrow’, he was brought back in the comics, too. I don’t know if he’s still around, but he was not too long ago.)

    Given how extremely powerful gorillas are, having the ability to turn into one doesn’t sound ridiculous to me at all. As for Freedom Beast, while I’ve never been wild about the name, so I wouldn’t call him ‘terrible’ – a touch outdated these days, sure, since his origin is tied into Apartheid, but there’s still some potential in the concept.

    • Sean Tadsen

      re: Vibe – It could just be modern writers deciding to use an already existing Hispanic character, rather than creating a new one whole-cloth, possibly at the urging of DC. And while it seems like they’re doing good work, that doesn’t make his initial appearance any less cringe-inducing.

      re: Congorilla – Fair point, but the existence of other heroes who are just as strong – if not stronger – than a gorilla, and who don’t need to swap bodies with a gorilla to be that strong (not to mention likely having other powers as well), does severely undermine the seriousness.

      • Deneb T. Hall

        I think initial attempts at adding diversity are almost always a little ‘cringe-inducing’ – Black Lightning, for instance, went a bit over-the-top with the ‘angry black man’ bit when he was first introduced. Didn’t mean he wasn’t a good character, though, and after several decades of fleshing him out, it’s easier to see that. It’s the same thing with Vibe – I don’t know if DC had had any Latino superheroes before him, but if so, they certainly hadn’t had many, so of course their early attempts at that sort of thing would be halting and ungainly. If they hadn’t killed him off early, he might have gotten some decent stories here and there, gradually built up a fan-following, etc., and we would now look back on those early days with a bit more favor, as they would be the herald of better things to come. As it is, he never had a chance to do that, so…

        That’s true, but A: not every character NEEDS to be serious; it’s good to mix it up a little with a bit of silliness and whimsy. It’s why Plastic Man keeps getting put on teams with Batman – they’re nothing alike, but they add variety. And B: yes, but the same could be said of Hawkman (wow! He flies and bashes things – never seen that before!), or any number of other superheroes – just because their powers aren’t particularly unique doesn’t mean they’re useless. And the method of achieving said powers actually is kind of unique – name me another superhero who changes into a gorilla.

    • Thomas Stockel

      You’re right about Freedom Beast; personally I liked the powerset when I first saw it in Animal Man. Combining animals to create superbeasts under your control is pretty gross and badass. :D

      But the Vibe we see in the Flash television series is an almost completely different character from the one we saw in comics. He’s got a different first name, different skill set, different powers. As far as I know he’s not from Detroit but is a Central City native and his brother was every bit as clean cut as him.

      Finally, as for Congorilla, it’s a fair point I guess, except why was he orange? And that name was terrible.

      • Deneb T. Hall

        I can’t really comment on the TV Vibe, since I haven’t watched that show yet (although I probably will one of these days). The way these things go, though, if Vibe winds up having a continuing career in comics, he’ll probably be closer to the show’s version than the original, since that’ll be what popularized him – so it doesn’t really matter all that much if the TV version is different from the source material; for all intents and purposes, he IS the source material now – much in the same way that the Batman Returns Penguin may not have had much to do with the original version, but he’s still been the departure point for countless writers and artists since then.

        Well, he was originally described as ‘golden’ – ‘the golden gorilla’, something like that – so I guess he eventually became orange simply because some colorist decided it was close enough. And as for the name, it’s because he’s actually Congo Bill, a jungle adventure hero from way back in the day – so I guess it’s just a way of acknowledging the character’s past. (Anyway, at least it’s a memorable name.)