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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.