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Comic Book / Challengers of the Unknown

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Showcase #6

The Challengers of the Unknown are a Badass Normal hero team appearing in DC Comics since 1957. It is not known exactly who had a hand in their creation, as their first appearance ran without writer credits, but the artwork is definitely by Jack Kirby and he probably had a hand in shaping the story, too.

Ace Morgan, Prof Haley, Rocky Davis, and Red Ryan miraculously survive a plane crash and are inspired to devote their lives to investigating mysteries and facing down strange threats, fearing no danger because they feel that they've already been granted extra time. They debuted in Showcase #6 in 1957 and made a few more appearances in that title before being given their own series, which ran from 1958 to 1971. They were subsequently rebooted post-Crisis in a 1991 miniseries, and reimagined in the New 52 as competitors in a reality TV show, as well as making guest appearances in other series.

A new team took up the name in a short-lived 1997 ongoing. A 2004 miniseries also introduced a new team, reimagining them and the original Challengers as having been subjects of a mind-control experiment by a global conspiracy who escaped the leash. A New 52 version combining the original and 1997 teams appeared in DC Universe Presents, but we don't talk about that. Another new team gets an ongoing in 2017, New Challengers, as part of DC's Dark Matter initiative.

By the way, if the premise sounds familiar, most Kirby fans say that one of the best arguments that he was the real creative force in Marvel Comics was that he basically recycled it in combination with Stan Lee's ideas for more complex Super Hero characters to created the groundbreaking Fantastic Four, which jump-started the creation of the Marvel Universe.

Outside of comic pages, the Challengers have appeared in a novel about the team, the animated adaptation of DC: The New Frontier (although all of them besides Ace are Demoted to Extra in comparison to their prominent roles in the original limited series), a few Batman: The Brave and the Bold episodes, and Teen Titans Go! To the Movies.

These series contain examples of:

  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: In an early issue, an accident in June's lab turns her into a Giant Woman and a germ she was inspecting into a Mega Microbe, the two eventually getting into a Behemoth Battle.
  • Badass Normal: The Challengers face many science-fictional or supernatural menaces without any superpowers of their own.
  • Computerized Judicial System: One early story has the Challengers and a villainous time-traveler subjected to one after travelling into the far future. In a subversion of how this plot usually plays out, the A.I. exonerates all of them for being obviously too primitive to comply with society's more complicated laws; before the villain can celebrate, though, the court's human enforcers promptly confiscate all the tech he's stolen, turn him over to the Challengers, send them all back to their own time, and blow up the time machine for good measure.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: In early stories Prof Haley went by Prof Harrison.
  • The Fantastic Faux: The Ur-Example; they actually predate the Fantastic Four by about three years, and were also created by Jack Kirby. Kirby in fact used them as the template for creating the Fantastic Four, and DC has often retooled or reinterpreted the characters to be more similar to their more-famous knockoffs.
  • Immune to Fate: A 2007 story arc in The Brave and the Bold revealed that the Challengers were destined to die in the plane crash, and ever since they have existed beyond fate; even the Book of Destiny of the Endless, which records everything that has ever happened or will happen, contains no record of them beyond that point.
  • Pull a Rabbit out of My Hat: In the 1991 reboot, this was the first thing Ace attempted when he was reinvented as a mystic. Since one of his teammates was actually named Rocky, he even used the Rocky and Bullwinkle quote.
  • Retool: The Challengers have been retooled many times as trends in comics have changed, and have managed to represent nearly every trend at some point:
  • Solar System Neighbors: The challengers once rounded up three giant plutonian animals wreaking havoc on earth and then handed them over to intelligent aliens from Pluto who safely removed the creatures.
  • Tonight, Someone Dies: An early issue actually did kill off one of the Challengers this way. CPR brought him back within a few panels.
  • Transplant: Rocky was transplanted to the Doom Patrol in Keith Giffen's run, essentially becoming their chaplain.
  • Waking Up at the Morgue: Rocky in his origin story was seemingly killed during a wrestling match where he was crushed to death by his opponent with a very strong bear hug, only to wake up when the doctors were ready to do an autopsy on his body.