Chris Peruzzi is a comic book superhero historian who is passionate about how today's comic book heroes are the new mythology for America.
More Obscure Marvel Characters
The Universe is a mind-bogglingly big place and the Marvel Universe is no exception.
I’ve written a few articles about some of the more obscure Marvel characters and I thought I had a good handle on many of the characters. When I found a few references to some I’d never heard of that were floating around the ethereal plane, I decided it was time to write another article on these forgotten characters—along with some of the ones I’d left off from the last article. This time, I wouldn’t be so choosey when it came to good guy or bad guy. The point would be they’ve been pretty much forgotten and ignored.
And that’s just not right.
The truth is there are too many to count. I had only tripped across some of these when I’d gotten a wonderful gift from my wife—four volumes of “Marvel Firsts” from the 1970s. Yes, I can hear you now.
“So what,” you say.
“Who cares,” you say.
Let me tell you about comics in the 1970s. We had some good character premiers. Characters like Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Deathlock the Demolisher, Machine Man, Tigra, and Brother Voodoo who came to the forefront.
Granted, there were a bunch of bad starts. The premier launch of a pre-Tigra Greer Grant Nelson as “The Cat” (in a costume eventually worn by Patsy Walker, aka Hellcat) fizzled out within the same decade. Good concepts were doomed to bad writing. I still see some potential in the permanently late Ulysses Bloodstone, Immortal Monster Hunter - a character so wrapped in wannabe Lovecraftian Cthulhu mythos characters that it's a mystery how such a character could fail.
Yet, he did.
Even as I write this I’m going through my mental scratch pad of character lists and some characters are more obscure than others I’ve considered. With that in mind, here are five more really obscure characters from the Marvel Universe.
Gabriel the Devil Hunter
Those of you who were born after the late 70s missed the entire “The Devil is Coming to Get You” genre of movies.
Trust me, what modern movie producers and directors do with CGI and special effects, the old movie makers did with plot and intonation—and, okay, a bit of spit pea soup, too. Beginning with The Exorcist made in 1973, the devil freakout movies of Rosemary’s Baby, Devil Rain, Prince of Darkness, and Race with the Devil was enough to get the Marvel versions of Beelzebub up to the limelight.
The Devil was a big movie magnet then because nothing was more horrifying than having Mephistopheles visit your humble home and possess the body of one of your kids. Marvel Comics jumped on that bandwagon and came out with their own treasure chest of occult nastiness titles like The Son of Satan, Ghost Rider, Brother Voodoo, and Werewolf by Night where deals with the Devil, Devil spawn, occult mayhem, and monster curses were almost commonplace.
Enter Gabriel the Devil Hunter. Gabriel comes to us as the Jason Blood of the Marvel Comics set – minus the demon, Etrigan. He is not only the survivor of a demonic possession, an experience where he had yanked out his own eye to please the demon possessing him, but lost his first wife to demons. As he has only the one eye, he gets to wear the ever-so-cool Nick Fury eye patch and has streaks of gray hair on his head – which obviously came from that traumatic experience.
The stories are Catholic possession on steroids. Gabriel branded a cross onto his own chest to prevent further such possessions.
While the majority of heroes in the Marvel Universe recognize Doctor Strange their “go to” guy, few know Gabriel for being a top notch demon fighter. His stories are pretty good for what they are. He’s a normal guy who’s studied the occult and when the situation calls for it, he can pull out a can of whupass on any demonic filth taking residence in your toddler.
Unfortunately, Gabriel’s fate was to descend into depression and alcoholism, eventually, losing his mind in a confrontation with Daimon Hellstrom (The Son of Satan). Ironically, he's now in the care of Isaac Christians, the Gargoyle (a man possessing a demon).
Gabriel’s the Devil Hunter first appeared in Haunt of Horror #2
The Scarlet Scarab
Those of us who’ve been reading comic books for a long time have recognized certain symmetries. Many of these are not coincidental.
While some readers can make comparisons to the Hulk and Superman, that symmetry is not nearly as close as taking characters from The Justice League and The Squadron Supreme. Superman is Hyperion, Batman is Nighthawk, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Green Lantern are Princess Power, Speed Demon, and Doc Spectrum, respectively—you can’t fail to see the blatant copying. The Marvel writers rationalize this as a "What if?" scenario.
Marvel does this quite often—so does DC. They also did it with the Shi’ar Imperial Guard and the Legion of Superheroes. There are rumors that that entire story came when DC started using Wolverine’s hairstyle on Timberwolf.
And now we have the Scarlet Scarab.
If you take a nanosecond and clean your glasses you might be able to see “Blue Beetle” there somewhere. There are two versions of the Scarlet Scarab which are almost identical to Dan Garret and the current Blue Beetle. The truth is the Scarlet Scarab is Roy Thomas' homage to The Blue Beetle—it was his second professional comic book story writing gig.
The Scarlet Scarab is an archeologist, Abdul Faoul who finds a ruby scarab during World War II. The scarab gives him mystical powers which he uses to fight as Egypt's champion. Working with the Namor and The Original Human Torch, he fought against the Nazis until the end of the war—then he just disappeared after probably losing it.
Faoul spent the rest of his life searching for the scarab but failed to find it. On his deathbed, he implores his son, Mehemet (somewhere he found time to have a son), to keep searching for it. Eventually, Mehemet found the scarab again and now continues his father’s mission.
He hasn’t been seen much in a few decades; that's why he's forgotten.
The Scarlet Scarab made his first appearance in Invaders #23 and the second Scarab was in Thor #326.
IT! - The Living Colossus
There is nothing like naming your character after one of the most used pronouns in the English language. It follows in the footsteps of naming characters like Him, Her, and THEM, who eventually became Adam Warlock, Kismet, and Hydra. Only It stayed It until it was destroyed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
“It” was a giant 100-foot granite statue brought to life and possessed by alien invaders to wreak havoc in the Soviet Union. These aliens would then abandon the statue and leave it immobile. When the statue was transported to Los Angeles, the aliens reanimated it again. This time, It was stopped by a special effects designer Bob O’Bryan. He was able to possess the statue himself. After losing the use of his legs, he was still able to control the statue and used the It to battle such monsters as Fin Fang Foom as well as a monster called Granitor. It was reduced in height by unknown means from 100 feet to 30 feet and then brought back to 100 feet again.
His main enemy was a villain called Doctor Vault. Doctor Vault was able to usurp the control that O’Bryan had over the statue and decided it was a good idea to fight the Hulk in this form. The Hulk, of course, destroyed the statue effortlessly.
The statue, while it was active, had tremendous strength, could fly, and did not require oxygen, so it could battle underwater. However, for some reason, it could be rendered inactive by nerve gas or knockout gas.
Don't ask me; I don’t know, either.
It first appeared in Tales of Suspense #14.
The Mandrill and Nekra
Oh to be a fly on the wall when Marvel was pitching new characters in the 70s.
Somehow, some intrepid young writer pitched this:
“I’VE GOT IT!! Let’s make a mutant character who looks just like monkey but instead of having all of the obvious monkey attributes we’ll make him irresistible to women.”
Genius! Which is what to say to a concussed four-year-old when he says something like that—anyone else you beat until they die. I’m sure the chief editor was mulling over the sexual connotations of a name like “man drill” in the same way when they pitched "Giant Sized Man-Thing" to Marketing. In addition to this, they gave him a female counterpart, Nekra Sinclaire.
Their story is that they are the offsprings of a scientist and a cleaning woman who were caught in an atomic accident (the two were not a couple). The scientist and his wife gave birth to a freakish male child with unusual features. The cleaning woman gave birth to a daughter with chalk white skin and fangs. The boy grew tufts of body hair and developed an appearance similar to a mandrill. He also gained strength and agility and could secrete pheromones making him irresistible to women.
Nekra's powers were more on the brutal side. She could take intense violent emotions and turn them into super-strength, invulnerability, and endurance. She was sort of like the poor woman's She-Hulk. She could press 10 tons and survive an explosion equal to 100 lbs of TNT.
Together they created a cult hate group called Black Spectre (made almost exclusively of women) and attempted to overthrow the US Government. This attempt failed.
The Mandrill pops up every so often in a large criminal organization. He was last taken in with the Hood’s gang and is currently doing time.
After their partnership dissolved, Nekra teamed up with the Grim Reaper (Eric Williams). However, Nekra was apparently was killed along with the Grim Reaper during one of the Vision’s latest explosions.
The Mandrill made his first appearance in Shanna the She-Devil #4.
Nekra made her first appearance in Shanna the She-Devil #5.
When a writer gives your character a name like Bill “Bull” Taurens, he can only be stuck with one type of power—and he won’t have the powers of a canary.
What a lucky day Bill Taurens had when a mad scientist was looking to get test subjects for his experimental bull serum. Imagine the odds. Well, Bill was chosen to be the guinea pig for this bull serum which you’ll never guess in a million years what it does to him. It turned him into a humanoid bull.
He’s got super strength, horns, and likes to charge into things. You know, bull in China shop sort of stuff.
Really, you can laugh now and get it out of your system. Okay, are you done yet? Let's continue.
He got a chance to battle Daredevil and then had an opportunity to fight Tigra in a bar room brawl. Of course, fate's not done with the Man-Bull yet because the serum caused him to mutate further. He lost the power of speech and grew a tail. Eventually, he regained his speech, but that was after he faced off against the Gray Hulk.
Man-Bull, like the Mandrill, usually pops up as filler in larger criminal organizations as extra "manpower". He's good at being a head-lackey. Usually, he's found when a writer needs villains with an animal theme. He’s still around but he's used sparingly.
So many of these guys were thought up in the 1970s. I really don’t know what was passed around the Marvel writing room, but I would like to get my hands on a roll of it for recreational reasons.
Normally, when I take a look at some of the dialogue pumped out by Stan Lee, I shiver. Then I took a look at some of the stuff churned out in the 70s and I got dizzy—and it wasn't a good dizzy, either. In comics, when the psychedelic world mixes with things like Blaxploitation and the faux hipness of the early 70s, some poor clueless comic book writer has to write terrible, laughable dialogue.
Then they try to make some characters.
Granted, some are really good. I’m frankly amazed at the staying power of characters like Luke Cage and Iron Fist. It was from those humble origins, other writers stood on their forefathers' shoulders and came up with some awesome storylines.
Others, like Gabriel, Nekra, The Mandrill, and The Man-Bull got the short end of the “Giant Sized Man Thing.”
© 2016 Christopher Peruzzi
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on May 25, 2016:
NBYomi - Thanks for writing in. Yeah, the Man Bull is pretty high on the lameness scale. When you give a character a name like Bill "Bull" Taurens, you're just setting us up for a slew of bad puns. Bill Taurens... why not come up with another alter ego like Crustacy "Crabby" Canser? You'll never guess what powers she'll have.
I wouldn't give up on Man Bull just yet, though. After seeing the Purple Man come out for Jessica Jones and some of the characters they've resuscitated for Agents of SHIELD (including Mister Hyde), I think Man Bull is a character that is one man's writer's block solution away. He might just show up on TV.
N B Yomi from Dallas, TX on May 25, 2016:
Man the only character I know that you mentioned is Mandrill, but didn't about the others. I kinda wanna learn more about Gabriel to see if there's room to bring him back, but "Man Bull?" Seriously? What kind of name is that?Though as a creator of comics myself, I'm not one to talk.