The comic book world is teeming with characters that derive their powers from a short list of abilities. Super-strength, energy blasts, super-speed and telekinesis/telepathy account for a huge percentage of the powers wielded by today’s comic book characters, but there are characters whose abilities are slightly more nuanced. As the 2017 awards season rolls on and we draw closer to the 59th Annual Grammy Awards, we took a look at some comic book characters whose superhuman abilities are focused on harnessing the power of sound.
Some of these characters are classics who’ve starred in popular series for decades. Some are characters that have been elevated from the back of the shelf in recent years to the front of the comic industry’s consciousness. Some are… still struggling to find their (ahem) voice. Good, bad, or ugly, here are the 15 sound or music-based comic book characters that you should know.
15. DR. BONG
If you’re not mutated or born with the power to bend sound waves to your will, sometimes you just need to figure it out for yourself. Sometimes that takes the form of a helmet shaped like a bell and a giant bell clapper for your left hand. Such is the case for Lester Verde, aka Dr. Bong. Originally created by Steve Gerber and Marie Severin in the late ’70s as a villain for Howard the Duck, and powered by a deadly mixture of engineering expertise and unrequited love, Dr. Bong has also popped up as a supporting character in comics starring Deadpool (a triangle of absurdity recently completed in December’s “Deadpool the Duck” #1).
Dr. Bong has demonstrated the ability to coax numerous effects from his unique costume, including the powers of hypnosis and teleportation, by striking his helmet with the metallic prosthesis he wears on his arm. The extent of the Dr. Bong’s sound-based abilities, however, may be limited only by his twisted intellect.
14. THE WHITE VIOLIN
It may be a sign that sound-based weapons are not held in the highest regard that there are relatively few comic characters with the ability to manipulate sound. After all, one might expect a sound-based character to be capable of inflicting disorientation, incapacitation, or perhaps even physical damage on a target. What would happen, though, if the character was designed by someone whose life is dedicated to music — someone who believes that music is the most powerful medium in the world?
The answer is The White Violin, and she may rival any comic book character in existence in terms of destructive power. Created by the lead singer of the band My Chemical Romance, Gerard Way, for his book “The Umbrella Academy,” Vanya Hargreeves is introduced as a talented violinist who feels by inadequate among her super-powered siblings at an Academy for talented children because, quite simply, she has no powers. Her powers, however, are unleashed by the villainous Conductor, and, after she literally tears the Conductor in half with a single note, it is revealed that White Violin intends to use her musical powers to destroy the world. Luckily — though tragically — she is finally stopped by her estranged family.
As far as unique comic book characters go, Alison Blaire, aka Dazzler, is in a class of her own. Rather than being powered by, say, the Earth’s yellow sun, Blaire gets her powers from sound; and rather than emitting flames or blasts of destructive energy, she emits light. When viewed in the context of modern age comic book heroes who, by and large, spend most of their time beating on one another or blowing up cityscapes, Dazzler’s sound-and-light show abilities seem out of place. In the context of the tail-end of the disco era, however, Dazzler was a much more palatable hero to support.
Created by committee at Marvel, which included John Romita Jr. and Louise Simonson, Dazzler was basically a walking party. Add to that the fact that she was an independent female character in a time of rising feminism and the fact that Galactus himself once thought enough of her to give her the power cosmic, and it’s more understandable that Dazzler earned her own series after only a year. In many cases, Dazzler’s tactics rely on misdirection and stunning enemies instead of defeating them through more pugilistic means, and, despite multiple efforts to update her character, she has struggled to find a steady role in modern age comics.
Most song and sound-based comic book characters bend sound waves to their will, but the relationship Marvel’s Echo has with sound turns that paradigm on its head. In fact, many of those sound-based characters’ ear-shattering abilities have little effect on Echo because Echo, whose real name is Maya Lopez — and was created by David Mack and Joe Quesada — is hearing impaired.
Even though Echo’s invulnerability to sound-based weapons has saved her life, her deafness regularly puts her in peril as well. Communication with teammates wearing masks or full helmets has caused her difficulty in the past, and her situational awareness is drastically hampered in low visibility situations. Still, Echo is a valued member of the superhero community, having served as an Avenger under the alias Ronin, and having fought alongside heroes like Daredevil and Moon Knight. Her superior physical conditioning, considerable prowess in hand-to-hand combat, and ability to learn new skills simply by watching the skills performed make Echo a force to be reckoned with.
Songbird’s odyssey is a soap opera story that spans nearly 40 years, starting in 1979 under John Byrne’s pen. Originally a small-time villain/professional wrestler going by the moniker Screaming Mimi, Songbird eventually graduated to Baron Zemo’s Masters of Evil on the power of a throat-implant to create tones and sonic blasts that could wreak havoc with a victim’s nervous system. Songbird’s career and abilities underwent a series of changes after the death of her lover, Angar the Screamer, sent Songbird into a rage that ended in the loss of her vocal powers.
Her powers were restored through a new series of implants in order to recruit her back into Zemo’s forces, but Songbird’s team, the Thunderbolts, turned against the Baron soon afterward, leaving her without a firm mooring. The installment of Hawkeye as a member of the Thunderbolts marked another new chapter in Songbird’s career, seeing her shed her villainous ways, this time intentionally destroying the equipment that made her powers possible after battling a reincarnated Angar the Screamer made of pure sound. In the end, though, Songbird was able to continue her crimefighting career thanks to a new sonic device, courtesy of S.H.I.E.L.D.
10. SCOTT PILGRIM
Music is, in many ways, based in emotion. It’s no wonder, then, that music is an outlet and a refuge for so many people as they navigate the waters of romance. For Scott Pilgrim, a bassist in the fictional band Sex Bob-Omb, music is the cord that ties his life — and his rocky string of romances — together. Over the course of six volumes of the manga-influenced series written by the now-legendary Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott battles the previous partners of his new love interest, Ramona Flowers, in the hope of winning her heart and exorcising the demons of his own romantic past.
To anyone who grew up a scenester or an acquaintance of scenesters, “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” likely resonates on a deep level. For Pilgrim, music is almost a fluid in which he floats as he tries to sort out who he is; at the same time, his band’s gigs also serve as a major driving force in his that emotional progression. In that way, Scott’s story captures the often complicated relationship young people have with music and how it can anchor us during some of the most trying times of our lives.
The late ’70s and early ’80s were a strange time for comic books. The industry was metamorphosing from the optimism of Silver Age comics to the grit and realism of the Modern Age. The experimentation of the period, both narrative and visual, gave rise to classic stories characteristic of both eras, but it also gave rise to a number of odd-ball creations. One of those creations is Hypno-Hustler, a small-time crook with the power to hypnotize his victims with the power of his voice.
Created by Bill Mantlo and Frank Springer, for “The Spectacular Spider-Man” #24, the plan was for Hypno-Hustler and the Mercy Killers to play a club full of patrons into a trance and then loot a safe full of cash, but Peter Parker happened to be in the crowd that night, and, when the dastardly scheme was put into action, Parker’s alter ego turned the tables. Though the character had only a short career in comics, he serves as a unique reminder, both in design and historical placement, of a time of transition for the comic book industry.
8. BLACK CANARY
Predating Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s cadre of sound-based Marvel characters by nearly two decades is the bat-title staple, Black Canary. A butt-kicking crimefighter with the ability to use her sonic scream — also known as the Canary Cry — as a powerful offensive weapon, Dinah was created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino, and first appeared in what was then called “Flash Comics” back in 1947. As a member and longtime leader of the Birds of Prey, Black Canary has frequently worked with other top-tier DC teams and characters like the Justice Society (and League) of America, Barbara Gordon, Huntress and Green Arrow to clean the streets of several of the DC Universe’s biggest cities, including Gotham, Metropolis and Star City.
DC’s fishnet-clad superhero’s relationship with sound doesn’t start and end with crimefighting, though. In addition to being a vigilante, Black Canary is, appropriately enough, the lead singer of a rock band called Black Canary. In some incarnations, Black Canary also has the ability to glide or cushion a fall using the power of her sonic scream.
7. SILVER BANSHEE
Following a botched occult ritual that she did not survive, young Siobhan MacDougal was imbued with the power to emit a deadly sonic scream by a mystic spirit known as the Crone. Siobhan soon returned to the land of the living, taking up a new persona as the villainess Silver Banshee. Her new obsession after coming back was finding a book of occult spells that had once belonged to her father — a search that led her to Metropolis and the Big Red S.
Interestingly, in addition to her sonic scream, Silver Banshee’s sound-based powers extend to linguistics, as she is also able to speak and understand new languages simply by hearing them for the first time. The DC baddie has tangled with Superman and Supergirl on several occasions since her introduction in “Action Comics” #595″ by John Byrne back in 1987 and has also made the jump from funny books to the small screen, appearing in episodes of “Smallville” and “Justice League Unlimited.”
A list about sound-based comic book characters wouldn’t be complete without including Ulysses Klaw, a mutant whose body is literally made out of sound. “Armed” with a sonic emitter in place of his right hand, Klaw is able to use sound in combat, alternately deafening his opponents or pummeling them with the concussive power of his sound projections, building solid, sound-based constructs — sort of like a sound-based Green Lantern — and sensing his surroundings using sonar.
Created in 1966 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Klaw has appeared throughout the Marvel universe, battling against the Avengers in the classic arcade game, “Captain America and the Avengers,” and as a part of the second incarnation of the Masters of Evil, fighting the Fantastic Four as a member of the Frightful Four. Most recently, Klaw has reared his ugly little head in the film “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (a role that Andy Serkis is slated to reprise in the upcoming “Black Panther”).
Where most sound-based comic book characters use audible sound to effect the results that they desire, Vibe’s powers reside in a subsonic register. You see, he is blessed with the ability to control seismic and other infrasonic vibrations, which has led some to theorize that his powers directly affect the fabric of space-time.
Originally created by the incredible team of Gerry Conway and Chuck Patton, Cisco Ramon was a former gang member who rose to superhero prominence when he decided to clean up his act after Aquaman took it upon himself to overhaul the Justice League roster in “Justice League of America Annual” #2. Taking up the moniker Vibe, Cisco joined the fight against evil alongside such heroes as Black Canary, Green Arrow, Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Since then, Vibe has died and been resurrected several times (including one stint as a member of the Black Lantern Corps) and has even had a brief brush with the limelight as the star of his own New 52 series.
Shriek is a supervillain in Spider-man’s gallery of rogues who has the power to use sound in a number of ways, which include the ability to manipulate others’ emotions (including driving them insane) and the ability to use the concussive force of sound as an offensive weapon. In contrast to most comic book characters who have weaponized their voices, Shriek has also been depicted firing sonic blasts from her hands… which doesn’t make much sense, we’ll grant you.
Ironically, Shriek has most frequently appeared as an ally to — and even a romantic interest of — Carnage, a character with a well-established vulnerability to sound. Adding to the irony is the fact that Shriek and Carnage, who each suffer from tremendous mental instability, immediately decide to form a “family” after realizing their mutual attraction, enlisting Carrion and a Spider-Man Doppleganger as the “children” of their union in the popular ’90s event, “Maximum Carnage.” Despite her repeated incarceration and battles with insanity, Shriek continues to display maternal behavior toward her ersatz family, showing that, although her sonic powers have the capacity to make others lose their sanity, Shriek continues to search for her own sense of normalcy.
As a classic X-character who counts his days in funny books all the way back to 1967, when he was created by Roy Thomas and Werner Roth for “X-Men” #28, Banshee has been something of a pedal tone for the various incarnations of X-teams. With a nefarious cousin, “Black Tom” Cassidy, and a daughter with her own voice-powered abilities, Sean Cassidy has stitched together appearances as a member of the X-Men and Generation X, starting in the landmark “Giant-Size X-Men #1” and running through the film “X-Men: First Class.”
Banshee’s abilities rely almost entirely on the amazing strength of his lungs and voice, which allow him the ability to produce a powerful scream capable of stunning foes (or rending them apart on a molecular level) and the ability to fly (through a sort of levitation effect, resulting from the air he expels when screaming). Despite being saddled with the trope of an Irish mutant empowered with a banshee scream, some questionable costume choices and relegation to a series of deaths, resurrections and disappearances in recent years, Banshee remains one of the most iconic and powerful purveyors of the sonic scream in comics.
A person probably couldn’t be blamed for expecting Theresa Cassidy — who was created by Chris Claremont and Steve Leialoha as the daughter of the aforementioned Banshee — to disappear against an ever-expanding background of X-title characters. Instead, Siryn has, in many ways, surpassed her father, having played a central role in issues of X-Force and X-Factor for years. Siryn’s powers mirror her father’s closely, with a destructive vocal blast serving both as her main offensive weapon and a means of flying; however, Siryn’s character finds much of its complexity during her professional and romantic journey.
Through her leadership roles as a vigilante in X-Force and as a sleuth in X-Factor, Siryn found love — and heartbreak — with Warpath, Deadpool and Multiple Man, plumbing new depths for all four characters. Siryn is a character that refuses to be defined by the tropes that threaten to strangle her. An Irish character with powers, duplicated from her father, who has fought with a paramilitary unit and played a role in more than one love triangle with male leads, Siryn has risen above the premises of her situation to become a robust, compelling character of her own.
1. BLACK BOLT
Blackagar Boltagon, the melancholy king of the Attilan people, is a cursed man. Bestowed with the mutant ability to project devastating sound waves, Black Bolt is unable to speak, lest he destroy everything and everyone around him. Tragically, Black Bolt’s powers have led to much of the heartache in his life, having accidentally killed his own parents by causing a Kree ship to crash land on top of them and having caused his younger brother’s madness in the process.
As a result, Black Bolt’s wife, Medusa (who was also created way back in 1965 by legendary comics duo Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and whose powers include prehensile hair), must speak on behalf of the Inhuman Royal Family. As the leader of the Inhumans, Black Bolt has fought alongside heroes such as the Fantastic Four and led his people through the horrors of the Negative Zone. Now, he and the rest of the Inhumans face their next challenge in the upcoming television series, “The Inhumans,” where they’re certain to run afoul of their long-time nemeses, the Kree.
Who are your favorite decibel-delivering characters in comics? Sound off in the comments!
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