Challengers of the Unknown

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Challengers of the Unknown

Challengers of the Unknown #1 (1958).
Cover art by Jack Kirby.
Publication information
Publisher DC Comics
First appearance Showcase #6 (Feb. 1957)
Created by Jack Kirby and other(s)
In-story information
Base(s) Challengers Mountain
Member(s) Kyle "Ace" Morgan
Matthew "Red" Ryan
Leslie "Rocky" Davis
Walter Mark "Prof" Haley
June Robbins

The Challengers of the Unknown is a group of fictional characters in comic books published by DC Comics. Created by Jack Kirby, or co-created with Dave Wood[1] (sources differ), this quartet of adventurers explored science fictional and apparent paranormal occurrences and faced fantastic menaces.

Scripts for the first stories are often credited to Dick and Dave Wood, two brothers who also wrote other Kirby-illustrated material, such as the "Sky Masters of the Space Force" comic strip; but others have claimed that Kirby created the Challengers himself or together with former partner Joe Simon. The stories had weird menaces, fistfights, wild vehicles and gadgets, spectacular terrain, daring escapes, and a sense of humor.[2]

Elements of this series were later reused by Jack Kirby[3] in collaboration with Stan Lee to create The Fantastic Four which helped establish Marvel Comics as a major competitor in the comic book medium.

Publication history[edit]

Cover for Showcase #6 (Jan/Feb. 1957), the first appearance of the Challengers of the Unknown. Art by Jack Kirby.

In 1957, comic books needed content. Due to Fredric Wertham's book Seduction of the Innocent and subsequent Congressional hearings on the subject, superhero comics had mostly vanished from about 1949 to the mid-1950s. The revival of the Flash, seen[who?] as the return of the superheroes to publication, had occurred only four months earlier in Showcase #4. A team of larger-than-life adventurers with echoes of a World War II infantry squad were a natural fit. The group debuted in Showcase #6 (Feb. 1957).

The inspiration for the Challengers' adventures were drive-in movie fodder about skin divers, test pilots, acrobats, mountain climbers, boxers, and other adventurers.[4] The group's name may have also derived[weasel words] from a 1950 Ace Magazines horror title, Challenge of the Unknown.[5]

The roster included Ace Morgan, Prof Haley, Rocky Davis and Red Ryan. Ryan was killed and briefly replaced by his younger brother Marty, a pop singer who used the anagram ID of Tino Manarry. Red Ryan returned from the dead and Tino was written out, and towards the end of the original series a woman with an occult background named Corinna Stark acted like a fifth member of the team.

The series continued in Showcase for three more appearances (#7, 11, and 12) then moved to its own title, considered among Kirby's most notable from that period. After 12 issues total, Kirby moved on, although the title continued through issue #75, followed by two reprint issues. The Challengers were canceled with issue #77 in 1971. In 1973, three reprint issues were put out (#78–80).

Various revivals[edit]

In a short-lived 1977 revival, the Challengers were again a four-man, one-woman team. They first came back in Super-Team Family #8-10, before getting their own title back with issue #81. During this period, they were joined by Deadman and Swamp Thing, and June Robbins got a uniform and official status. No explanation was given for Corinna Stark's departure, nor June's joining the team.

The title was canceled with issue #87 in 1978. Adventure Comics Digest #493-497 (1982) featured an expanded version of the team's origin.

The Challengers returned in a limited series, Challengers of the Unknown vol. 2 (1991), by writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale. It ran eight issues and was reprinted in trade paperback as Challengers of the Unknown Must Die! (2004). Loeb hoped for a monthly title, and planned at least a second limited series, to reset the Challs to youth and heroism,[citation needed][clarification needed] but neither volume materialized.

In 2000, DC published a one-shot, Silver Age: Challengers of the Unknown, done in the style of the original Silver Age of Comic Books Challengers.

Countdown[edit]

Prepublication solicitations for various Countdown tie-ins referred to the group of Donna Troy, Jason Todd, Kyle Rayner, and "Bob", (a nefarious, renegade "purist" Monitor), as "Challengers From Beyond". This group went on a quest through the newly formed multiverse in order to find Ray Palmer, who Bob claimed was essential to the survival of the universe. Eventually the earth heroes were betrayed by Bob, who sought to kill Ray Palmer, rather than protect him or acquire his aid. Palmer, Troy, Todd, and Rayner found themselves involved in a war between the Monitors and the forces of Monarch. Later they traveled to Apokolips where they teamed up with Jimmy Olsen, Forager, Karate Kid and Triplicate Girl. After returning to Earth, Troy, Rayner, Forager, and Palmer decided to team up again. They traveled to the Monitors headquarters, where they informed the shocked beings that they would be watching over them as a sort of interdimensional border guards.

The Brave and the Bold[edit]

The 2007 revival of The Brave and the Bold series features a significant storyline involving the Challengers. In it, Destiny of the Endless reveals to Supergirl and Lobo that his book, The Book of Destiny, a vastly ancient, omniscient, historical "Bible" of sorts containing a record of every sentient being's past, present and, most importantly, future, making it a highly sought-after and dangerous artifact to possess, has changed because there appeared to be men who existed, but were not recorded in the book, and their undocumented actions made the book unreliable. Destiny cast the book away, expecting these men to retrieve it and become the book's proper safe-keepers, but the book instead ends up on the planet Rann, being used in a plot by the Luck Lords, seeing as how it "tells" the future, to alter the proper timeline for their own ends. The book was eventually recovered by Batman and Green Lantern with the help of the Challengers, who become the replacement holders of the book, being that, as it turns out, they were the four men who could not be tracked by the book's pages. This development was explained by Batman, who stated that the Challengers were supposed to have died in a plane crash, a crash no one should have ever walked away from. By cheating death they altered their own destinies, removing themselves from the book, and thus became responsible for minor alterations to the book over time. After this revelation, it was remarked upon by the Challs and others that they "are living on borrowed time..."

After this arc, the book remained in the Challengers' hands, who kept reading it, with a few of their members becoming obsessed with its secrets. In particular, they used it to keep track of the actions of the alchemist Megistus who had been gathering powerful transformative relics and objects; among these were the Orb of Ra, the H-Dial, the Philosopher's Stone, the heroes Metamorpho and Firestorm, several ancient star charts, and Green Lantern's Power Battery. Upon realizing this information, they battle the Warlock of Ys in Challenger Mountain when he unexpectedly manifests through the pages of the Book of Destiny and uses it to form a hardened shell for himself and the alchemist, himself, when he finally manages to seize the battery from Edwards Air Base. In this battle, Megistus uses the body of Metamorpho, who is under their power, to duel with the Challs. June accompanies them to the Megistus' solar base, and is pivotal in thwarting the alchemist's plans to infuse Earth with the irradiated cloud of cosmic energy that created Red Kryptonite in order to shield it against the Final Crisis by mutating humanity. However, June's triumph causes her to vanish in a resulting blast. The Challs assume she's dead, until Destiny comes to reclaim his book, at which point they all beg him to let them see into the book a final time to know June's final fate. However, it is shown that the blast that supposedly killed her actually erased her presence from the Book of Destiny, as well, and although she has disappeared, she had cheated death like the Challengers and is, indeed, alive somewhere. The Challengers then begin to search for June, now convinced she is a true Challenger of the Unknown.

Leslie "Rocky" Davis appears regularly in the newest Doom Patrol ongoing series, in which he serves as something of a counselor to the members of that team, and resides on Oolong Island. It is uncertain how this relates to the Challengers' promise to find June.

Alternative versions[edit]

DC published two other series, also titled Challengers of the Unknown, featuring the original Challengers' concept combined with a new set of characters.

The Challengers were revamped by writer Steven Grant in vol. 3 (1997), which had a totally new group of characters and was one of four series making up the Weirdoverse group of titles. This ongoing ran 18 issues, through 1998.

One more revamp was done by Howard Chaykin in a six-issue miniseries (vol. 4, 2004–2005). This series had another new group of characters. This was collected in trade paperback as Challengers of the Unknown: Stolen Moments, Borrowed Time.

A revamp appeared in DC Universe Presents in 2012 written by Dan DiDio and drawn by Jerry Ordway.

Fictional character biographies[edit]

When acquaintances miraculously survive a plane crash unscathed, they conclude that since they are "living on borrowed time" they should band together for hazardous adventures. The four — pilot Kyle "Ace" Morgan, daredevil Matthew "Red" Ryan, strong and slow-witted Leslie "Rocky" Davis, and scientist Walter Mark "Prof" Haley — became the Challengers of the Unknown.

Soon famous, the Challengers accept many "unknown challenges" from The Pentagon, mad scientists, and people with a problem. Over time the "Challs" establish the hollowed-out Challengers Mountain as headquarters. Later they adopt an hourglass logo to symbolize time running out. They encounter genies, common and sophisticated thieves, rocs, aliens and robots good and bad. Their adventures later veer toward superheroics, and take in everything from occult menaces to Bermuda Triangle mysteries. The Challengers travel through space, time, and other dimensions. They encounter the likes of the Doom Patrol, Deadman, Swamp Thing, Jonny Double, and the Sea Devils, with whom they fight the criminal group Scorpio.[6] June Robbins, a computer genius and archaeologist, joined the Challengers for many adventures as an "honorary" or "girl" Challenger. June first officially joins the team after the rogue robot 'Ultivac' seemingly kills one of the original Challengers. However that man returns thanks to heroic efforts of modern medical science. [7]

When Red is killed,[8] a teen rock star/engineering genius immediately wages a vendetta against the three-man team. "Tino Mannaray" turns out to be Martin Ryan, Red's kid brother, who blames the team for his death. Red eventually returns; though blown up, he had been dosed with shape-changing Liquid Light and rendered amnesiac, but still nearly conquered the Pacific as a Tiki god.

As the team's challenges become more occult, Red's brother Tino is blinded. Red donates an eye to his brother and dons an eye patch. Eventually Red receives an eye transplant. Prof becomes possessed by an evil spirit and is shot by a villain. While he recovers, Corinna Stark, a mysterious blonde with mystical knowledge, invites herself onto the team. The Challengers fight occult alien-monsters in backwoods villages and dark dreams, and Rocky and Red fight for Corinna's affection.

Challengerville[edit]

The Challs are later semi-retired, their mountain a theme park, and their adventures disregarded as cooked-up articles in a tabloid, The Tattletale. The nearby town has renamed itself Challengerville, managing to thrive on the team's name. A cosmic entity, which prides itself as "the personification of all evil", influences the entity Multi-Man to blow up the mountain. The town is destroyed. Hundreds die, including, seemingly, Prof and June.[9] The surviving Challengers are placed on trial, but eventually freed with the testimony of Superman. They are, however, ordered to disband.[10]

A tabloid reporter, Moffet, becomes involved with the group after several unexplained incidents. Moffet begins to piece together many seemingly unrelated massacres. Red became a violent, vigilante mercenary. Ace becomes an addled mystic, losing new-found friends due to inattention and incompetence. Rocky becomes lost in a life of luxury and ends up in an insane asylum.

Eventually the three reunite, and with Moffet's aid, find a strange portal near what was once Challengerville. They discover Prof and June, pregnant, "alive" in a strange "phantom zone". The dark demon confronts them and the final battle comes down to Moffet and a neutron bomb. The decision to attack is literally taken out of his hands by Multi-Man, who sacrifices himself to destroy the demon.[11]

"The New Challengers of the Unknown", including ghostly Prof and June, were poised to take on menaces in the dark corners of the world.[11]

Later, four new Challengers pursue X-Files-like horrors. They are Clay Brody, NASCAR driver; Brenda Ruskin, physicist; Kenn Kawa, radical games designer; and Marlon Corbet, commercial pilot, who also miraculously survived a plane crash. They stopped sacrificial wackos, drug-juiced zombies, vengeful ghosts, Amazon cults, Lovecraftian monsters, mass suicides, humming buildings, and other oddities. They were advised by Rocky Davis, older and grayer and alone. It was eventually revealed the original Challengers were dematerialized by a mad scientist's ray-weapon. The same ray caused both plane crashes, as well as others. Soon the original Challs reappeared, helped the young Challs defeat the madman, then walked back into oblivion (minus a wounded Rocky) to shut down a runaway Tesla field. The young Challengers vowed to fight on.

Superboy discovers the missing Challengers - Ace, Red, Prof, and June - in Hypertime. The team was waging guerrilla war against Black Zero (a Superboy variant). With Black Zero defeated, the team returns to Earth, but loses Red along the way. Reunited with Rocky in Metropolis, hosted by Rip Hunter, the original Challengers vow to explore Hypertime, "the greatest unknown", to find Red.

Two Challengers partake in Infinite Crisis. Rocky Davis and Prof Haley help stem the escape of prisoners from Blackgate Prison,.[12] Rocky fights in the Battle of Metropolis. He is one of dozens of heroes fighting the opposing army of the Secret Society of Super Villains. The Society is ultimately defeated.[13]

Later, on a world without superheroes, a blogger, a hip hop artist, an eco-terrorist, and two others discovers they'd been genetically enhanced and chip-programmed to be soldier-pawns by the Hegemony, a cabal of billionaires who secretly run that world. Made slaves on a Moon base, three Challengers blow up the base, escape to Earth, and declare war on the Hegemony until (like the obliquely mentioned earlier Challengers) their "borrowed time" runs out.

Other versions[edit]

The Challengers make a brief appearance in the Elseworlds miniseries Conjurers, set in an alternate DCU where magic is a part of mainstream society. These are the "Volume 3" Challengers, but given the nicknames of the originals: Kenn is "Prof", Clay is "Rocky", Brenda is "Red" and Marlon is "Ace". (Since Kenn was always shown as the most "mystical" of the new Challs, it makes sense that he would be "Prof" in a magical universe, rather than Brenda, the team's scientist.)

During Superboy's trip through Hypertime, referenced above, he briefly visits an Elseworld in which the Challengers were himself, Ace, Guardian and Dubbilex. The June who arrives in the DCU at the end of that story is also an Elseworlds version, coming from a universe where she was a full Challenger from the beginning. She was apparently exchanged with the June of the main timeline when she was struck by Hypertime energies.

The Challengers also made brief appearances in JLA: Another Nail (when all time periods meld together) and Adventures of Superman Annual #7 (as part of a strikeforce of non-powered heroes).

They were prominently featured in Darwyn Cooke's DC: The New Frontier miniseries (2003–2004). Various members were essential in many battles against menaces that arose throughout the series.

In the 1996 crossover series Amalgam Comics, the Challengers were merged with the Fantastic Four to become Challengers of The Fantastic.

Villains[edit]

The Challengers of the Unknown have faced an array of villains:

  • Amenothoth – An ancient Egyptian villain.
  • Brainiex  - Sentient computer/spaceship, allied with Villo.
  • Burt Langdon – A criminal who competed against the Challengers of the Unknown to obtain a wizard's deadly device.
  • Chang – An Asian mastermind.
  • Dakyab – An alien tyrant.
  • Dane Cary – A criminal that was sabotaging the filming of Connie Baylor's latest movie.
  • Darius Tiko – A scientist who discovers a time cube that lets him travel to the past and future.
  • Dekkar – A villain who once used a machine to steal the memories of the Challengers of the Unknown.
  • Dr. Edward Gruner – A scientist who created artificial clones of Volcano Man.
  • Dr. Fenton – A scientist who once kidnapped June Robbins.
  • Dr. Heathcliff Monroe – A scientist who worshipped M'nagalah.
  • Dr. Heller – A Neo-Fascist who the Challengers of the Unknown encounter on a deserted island.
  • Dr. Manning – A scientist who ends up turned into a giant, super-strong, rampaging caveman.
  • FX-1 – A robot that goes independent and ends up going on a rampage when struck by lightning.
  • Gargoyle – "Gary Doyle" is a roof-climbing villain who meets a blind girl and planned to pay for her surgery through whatever way he can.
  • General Tolek – A Tyran who led his kind to evade Earth.
  • Gurk – A criminal collector that once hired Multi-Man to help him find three pieces of a golden turtle statuette.
  • Hillary Mycroft – A criminal who sought to reassemble a sorcerer's apparatus.
  • Jacquard – A criminal that once challenged the Challengers of the Unknown.
  • Karnak – A criminal who used potions to create monsters.
  • Korba – A "man without a country" who enslaves people on an island to build his "world."
  • Kubagy – An alien criminal who came to Earth to steal it's chlorine in order to power his robot.
  • League of Challenge-Haters – A group of enemies that each fought the Challengers of the Unknown before joining together as this group.
    • Drabny – A villain who steals inventions from the future in order to take over the present. He was later a member of the League of Challenge-Haters.
    • Kra – A tyrant robot who enslaved the planet Zuna. He was later a member of the League of Challenge-Haters.
    • Multi-Man – A supervillain who gains a different form every time he dies. He was later a member of the League of Challenge-Haters.
    • Multi-Woman – A giant robot created by Multi-Man. A second version of her later appeared as a member of the League of Challenge-Haters.
    • Villo – The "world's vilest villain."
    • Volcano Man – A lava monster. He was later a member of the League of Challenge-Haters.
  • Legion of the Weird
  • Malvolio – A criminal who possesses an ancient genie named Ahmed.
  • Mastermind – An alien criminal who tricks Cosmo into thinking that the Challengers of the Unknown are his enemies.
  • Morlean – A sorcerer who was the first villain the Challengers of the Unknown encountered.
  • Mr. Dimension – A vagrant who stumbled upon a dimensional weapon that was dropped from a timeship.
  • Mr. Murlin – An alchemist that unleashed a plague that turns ordinary humans into violent zombies.
  • Mr. Tic-Tac-Toe – Dr. Bradford is a criminal who uses traps with a tic-tac-toe motif.
  • Neutro – Starrett is an element-transmuting villain.
  • Olan Tagorian – A criminal scientist whose machine can teleport monsters from other dimensions.
  • Ooze – Killer Stark was accidentally changed into the Ooze during his encounter with the Challengers of the Unknown.
  • Power Man – An energy-absorbing villain.
  • Raymond – A robot that was given to the Challengers of the Unknown as a gift, by had ulterior motives.
  • Roc – A criminal who obtained a mind-over-matter machine.
  • Roney – A criminal who obtained a stone that enables him to control two creatures.
  • Seekeenakee – An incarnate stone "god" whose worshippers want to take over the world. This was actually Red Ryan's transformed appearance.
  • Seth Gross – A wicked magician.
  • Sir Rodford – A criminal who lives in a world within a mirage.
  • Suboku – An alien who tricks the Challengers of the Unknown into doing things that would help him in his invasion.
  • Tartan – An alien ringmaster who once captured the Challengers of the Unknown for his intergalactic circus.
  • Torbert – A criminal who stole a "life liquid" from an ages-old pharaoh.
  • Tukamenon – An ancient mummy that fought the Challengers of Evil on behalf of the Legion of the Weird.
  • Ultivac – A giant computer robot that was built by an ex-Nazi scientist.
  • Wizard Welles – A criminal that once enlarged Rocky's cranium
  • Zardok – A criminal mystic who gained mind-over-matter powers from a meteorite.
  • Zarxes – A dimensional villain who plotted to conquer Earth.
  • Zog – An alien criminal.

In other media[edit]

Television[edit]

  • The outfits worn by the watchtower workers in Justice League Unlimited are very similar to the team's classic uniforms.
  • The Challengers of the Unknown appear in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Revenge of the Reach" with Walter Mark "Prof" Haley voiced by Armin Shimerman, Matthew "Red" Ryan voiced by Ioan Gruffudd, Kyle "Ace" Morgan voiced by J.K. Simmons, and Leslie "Rocky" Davis voiced by James Arnold Taylor. All four go to Dinosaur Island to investigate a meteorite that fell there. Batman helps them fight a giant spider on Dinosaur Island. They are later attacked by a group of Starros after he leaves. In "The Siege of Starro" Pt. 1, the Challengers of the Unknown are among the superheroes that are under the control of the Starros when they helped in the Starro Invasion.

Film[edit]

  • The Challengers of the Unknown appeared in the animated film Justice League: The New Frontier. Ace Morgan (voiced by John Heard) in particular is spotlighted, acting as friend and mentor to Hal Jordan. Professor Haley is also in a cameo in the meeting of him, Agent Faraday, Ace Morgan, and Dr. Will Magnus. "Red" Ryan, Dr. June Robbins, and "Rocky" Davis are also present during the battle and in the end.

Novel[edit]

In 1977, author Ron Goulart penned the novel Challengers of the Unknown as part of a DC experiment in new venues. The original four and June Robbins trekked to South America to investigate Zarpa the lake monster. While on the case they encounter young men with old Nazi tattoos, ancient alien cults, a castle in the desert, a robotic dog, and a bomb in a piano crate. (Dell Books, ISBN 0-440-11337-7)

Music[edit]

The team is tributed in The New Pornographers' song Challengers.

Awards[edit]

The 1950-60s series won the 1967 Alley Awards for Best Non-Super-Powered Group Title and Best Normal Adventure Group.

Collected editions[edit]

DC has reprinted The early Challenger stories, including Kirby's run, in two hardcover DC Archives and paperback, black and white Showcase Presents:

  • Challengers of the Unknown Archive #1 (collects Showcase #6-7, 11-12, Challengers #1-2, 157 pages, August 2003, ISBN 1-56389-997-3)[14]
  • Challengers of the Unknown Archive #2 (collects Challengers #3-8, 168 pages, November 2004, ISBN 1-4012-0153-9)[15]
  • Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown Volume 1 (collects Showcase #6-7, 11-12, Challengers #1-17, 540 pages, September 2006, ISBN 1-4012-1087-2)[16]
  • Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown: Volume 2 (collects Challengers #18-37, 528 pages, May 2008, ISBN 1-4012-1725-7)[17]

The Loeb-Sale mini was reprinted as a trade paperback, Challengers of the Unknown Must Die! (December 2004, ISBN 1-4012-0374-4),[18] as was the Chaykin mini-series (March 2006, ISBN 1-4012-0941-6).[19]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ George, Milo (ed.) The Comics Journal: Jack Kirby (Fantagraphics 2002) p. 79 says "..depicted by Kirby and Dave Wood in 1957, the "Challengers of the Unknown"..."
  2. ^ Wallace, Dan (2008), "Challengers of the Unknown", in Dougall, Alastair, The DC Comics Encyclopedia, New York: Dorling Kindersley, p. 77, ISBN 0-7566-4119-5, OCLC 213309017 
  3. ^ Kirby, Jack (May 14, 1971). Interview II: 'I created an army of characters, and now my connection to them is lost'. Interview with Tim Skelly. The Great Electric Bird. WNUR-FM.  Transcribed and published in The Nostalgia Journal #27. Reprinted in George, The Comics Journal Library.
  4. ^ Movies of 1956 included Back from Eternity, about survivors of a plane crash, and Toward the Unknown, about test pilots entering space. Movies about skin divers, acrobats, mountain climbers, and boxers were also popular. "You Might'a Been in Pictures: Possible Movie Sources for the Challengers of the Unknown."
  5. ^ "Challenge of the Unknown — the 1950s version!", Challenger Mountain (fan site). Accessed June 1, 2010.[dead link]
  6. ^ Challengers of the Unknown #47 (Dec. 1965–Jan. 1966).
  7. ^ "Showcase" #7 (April 1957)
  8. ^ Challengers of the Unknown #55 (Apr.–May 1957).
  9. ^ Challengers of the Unknown vol. 2, #1 (Mar. 1991).
  10. ^ Challengers of the Unknown vol. 2, #2 (Apr. 1991).
  11. ^ a b Challengers of the Unknown vol. 2, #8 (Oct. 1991).
  12. ^ Villains United: Infinite Crisis Special #1
  13. ^ Infinite Crisis #7
  14. ^ Challengers of the Unknown Archive #1 at DC Comics.com
  15. ^ Challengers of the Unknown Archive #2 at DC Comics.com
  16. ^ Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown: Volume 1 at DC Comics.com
  17. ^ Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown: Volume 2 at DC Comics.com
  18. ^ Challengers of the Unknown Must Die! at DC Comics.com
  19. ^ Stolen Moments, Borrowed Time at DC Comics.com

References[edit]