Over the past few years, DC Comics’ film and TV presence has tended to involve the publisher’s more recognizable characters, the occasional Bug-Eyed Bandit or Wild Dog notwithstanding. The upcoming NBC sitcom “Powerless” looks to aim a little lower with its choices of costumed guest-stars.
“Powerless” follows the employees of an insurance company which deals with the consequences of superhuman action, so it will have a distinctly different perspective than the average episode of “Gotham” or “The Flash.” Additionally, the first episode is set to feature Crimson Fox and Jack O’Lantern, two characters whose biggest exposure was probably over 25 years ago in the early days of “Justice League Europe.” As such, it appears to be a half-hour combination of “The Office” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
With that in mind, here’s a deep dive into DC’s library for a dozen or so characters (assuming an initial order of 13 episodes) who could be good fits for insurance-related hijinks. Some of them may not have the highest profiles, but each has a certain appeal, each is fairly budget-conscious and, more importantly, none of them are likely to be snapped up by any of DC and Warner Bros.’ other efforts.
Created by Marv Wolfman and Jerry Ordway
First appearance: as Jose Delgado in May 1987’s “The Adventures of Superman” #428; as Gangbuster in November 1987’s “AoS” #434
A schoolteacher turned masked urban avenger, Jose Delgado’s crusade against street-level crime contrasted with Superman’s high-powered exploits. Interviewing Gangbuster as part of a claim investigation could offer some good insights into an ordinary person’s rationale for costumed adventuring. Additionally, while “Powerless” may involve super-people mostly as the causes of various incidents, I’m also curious to see whether its company will try to sell a form of malpractice insurance to those freelancers who might not have the deep pockets of a Justice League or Teen Titans. Gangbuster strikes me as a good candidate for that.
Created by Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette
First appearance: November 2005’s “Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer” #1
(Based on Bill Parker and John Smalle’s creation Bulletgirl, who appeared first as a civilian in May 1940’s “Nickel Comics” #1, and as a superhero in April 1941’s “Master Comics” #13.)
Alix Harrower gained super-strength and near-invulnerability during a lab accident which coated her in silvery “smartskin” and also killed her husband. Distraught and suicidal, she tried unsuccessfully to find something tough enough to kill her — as she put it, “I think I was just going to run and run and run until I ran into something hard enough to kill me” — but decided to become a superhero after saving some train-wreck survivors. That’s a pretty dark origin story (and the rest of the “Bulleteer” miniseries involves some fairly seedy business), but “Powerless” could try to give it a comic spin. If anything, I suspect the owners of whatever she ran into will be talking to their insurance companies about the damages done by a determined superhuman.
11. Animal Man
Created by Dave Wood and Carmine Infantino
First appearance: September 1965’s “Strange Adventures” #180
Like his colleague Crimson Fox, Buddy Baker is a fairly competent superhero and an occasional member of the Justice League. He’s also a movie star, having been a stuntman and actor before gaining super-powers. Thus, he could appear on “Powerless” as a celebrity spokesman, touting the insurance company’s quick-as-a-cheetah response times, etc. I could also see Animal Man helping out the employees during a hostage situation, where he’d have to rely upon the unique abilities of whatever vermin were in the building and/or whatever exotic pet an employee might have smuggled in that day.
Created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez
First appearance: April 1985’s “Crisis On Infinite Earths” #1
Once a respected scientist on a parallel Earth, Pariah’s experiments helped kick off the multiversal “Crisis” and left him cursed to teleport from one disaster to another. You can see how that — plus his perpetual pessimism — might unsettle the employees of an insurance agency, especially if he teleports into their offices and starts wandering randomly amongst the cubicles. Sure, he says he just has some down time, but do they really believe that?
9. I… Vampire!
Created by J.M. DeMatteis and Tom Sutton
First appearance: March 1981’s “House of Mystery” #290
In the 1970s, Marvel’s “Tomb of Dracula” presented history’s greatest bloodsucker as the most anti- of antiheroes. In the early ’80s, DC gave the world Andrew Bennett, a sensitive, and unabashedly more heroic, creature of the night who wanted to take down his old girlfriend’s global undead organization. The “emo” descriptor might not apply fully to Andrew, but what fledgling ensemble cast couldn’t benefit from riffing on some familiar vampire tropes? Besides, hints of worldwide villainous organizations are always good for ongoing subplot maintenance.
8. The Question (Vic Sage)
Created by Steve Ditko
First appearance: June 1967’s “Blue Beetle” #1
Speaking of subplots, on “Justice League Unlimited” the Question fueled an ongoing investigation into some shady government activities. He could similarly serve as “Powerless'” Deep Throat if the producers were so inclined. Otherwise, the sitcom could fall back on the character’s history either as an expression of his creator’s black-and-white Objectivist leanings, or (as portrayed in the 1980s Denny O’Neil/Denys Cowan series) a more Zen-influenced individual. Either approach might be good for some laughs.
7. Doctor Thirteen
Created by Leonard Starr
First appearance: November 1951’s “Star Spangled Comics”
And while we’re on the subject of extreme characters, Dr. Terrance Thirteen is practically a must-have for a series dependent on the existence of superpowered people. As the DC Universe’s foremost professional skeptic, Dr. Thirteen has devoted his life to debunking magic, extraterrestrial life, violations of the laws of physics, and other routine elements of everyday life. He’d be perfect as an expert witness, explaining eagerly why a carelessly-thrown cigarette, and not a stray blast of eldritch magic, blew up that condo.
Created by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino
First appearance: October 1967’s “Strange Adventures” #205
As a ghost who can control the living, Deadman (once acrobat Boston Brand) might well carry his own TV show. Centered at least initially around the search for his own killer, it would be “The Fugitive” meets “Quantum Leap.” Until then, though, if “Powerless” ever wanted to do a bottle show — i.e., one with minimal guest stars which takes place on existing sets — it could use Deadman’s body-hopping powers to possess the regular cast and make them behave in strange and, (one hopes) comedic ways. I’d especially like to see a Deadman/Doctor 13 show, come to think of it.
5. Black Orchid
Created by Sheldon Mayer and Tony DeZuniga
First appearance: July 1973’s “Adventure Comics” #428
Most superheroes are defined at least in part by two key elements: an origin story and a civilian identity. For fifteen years, Black Orchid’s hook was that she had neither, just a host of alternative histories and red-herring personae. “Powerless” could build a story around the frustrating search for her true identity, or just her modus operandi of working behind the scenes, disguised as someone completely insignificant. Naturally, the episode would end with a discarded mask and her calling card, the flower that is her namesake.
Created by Gerry Conway and Joe Brozowski
First appearance: June 1986’s “Fury of Firestorm” #48
The CW’s “Arrowverse” has adapted more than its share of classic Firestorm characters, including Felicity Smoak (well, the name at least), Killer Frost, Multiplex and ‘Stormy himself. Moonbow appeared as Conway was winding up his run on the series he co-created, and while you’d think she’d be good for “Arrow” — an amateur archer pitting rival gangs against each other — she probably sounds better than she proved to be on paper. Going into masked adventuring as an escape from her boring college career, she quickly got in over her head (literally, since Firestorm had to rescue her from drowning in a mobster’s swimming pool). I could see her on “Powerless” as a well-meaning but woefully unprepared do-gooder, dealing with the consequences of her attempts at crimefighting.
3. Blue Devil
Created by Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn and Paris Cullins
First appearance: A special preview in June 1984’s “Fury of Firestorm” #24, and then in the same month’s “Blue Devil” #1
Blue Devil’s origin is a series of insurance claims just waiting to be unpacked. In a nutshell, stuntman and special-effects technician Dan Cassidy had built an effects-laden full-body costume to play the title character of the “Blue Devil” action/horror movie. Not surprisingly, when the production awakened the demon Nebiros, it fused the Blue Devil suit to Cassidy’s body permanently. This incident has implications for Cassidy’s workers’ compensation and/or disability, plus any insurance the studio has on the production of the movie itself. Moreover, because Nebiros is most likely judgment-proof, it’s a good illustration of “Powerless'” underlying rationale: in a world where virtually anything can happen, you need a good insurance agent.
2. The Challengers of the Unknown
Created by Jack Kirby with Dave Wood and/or Joe Simon
First appearance: February 1957’s “Showcase” #6
Widely considered to be Jack Kirby’s prototypes for the Fantastic Four, the Challengers — scientist “Prof” Haley, pilot “Ace” Morgan, daredevil “Red” Ryan, and strongman “Rocky” Davis — considered themselves to be “living on borrowed time” after they survived a plane crash. The crash itself could be fodder for “Powerless,” the Challs could be more celebrity spokesmen, or they could simply be on the scene when a giant robot or kaiju invaded a major metropolitan area. Essentially they’re just cool, low-fi adventurers who “Powerless” could use for a number of scenarios.
1. Rex the Wonder Dog
Created by Bob Kanigher and Alex Toth
First appearance: January/February 1952’s “Rex the Wonder Dog” #1
For almost 50 years Rex was considered just a smart and resourceful German Shepherd, saving lives and righting wrongs like Lassie or Rin Tin Tin — until 1990’s “Secret Origins” #48 revealed that he was part of a World War II super-soldier experiment which was almost sabotaged by Nazi agents. With the serum’s inventor killed by Nazis, Rex was the only surviving specimen, endowed with heightened strength, speed, stamina and intelligence. Additionally, he and Detective Chimp have extended their lives by drinking from the Fountain of Youth. He’s fought everything from forest fires to Gorilla Grodd, which makes him a very good dog indeed. Surely that’s enough to get him at least a “Powerless” subplot?
Which DC Comics characters do you want to see appear on “Powerless”? Let us know in the comments!
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