The Inferior Five
The Inferior Five(pop culture)
For much of the company’s existence, DC Comics had been the comic industry’s most conservative publisher, somewhat staid and reserved, but the rise of Marvel Comics and the success of the 1960s camp Batman television show changed all that. One of DC’s responses to a growing superhero market that could stand a bit of comedy was to introduce the Inferior Five. It was one of the first self-referential strips, taking swipes at the whole superhero genre and its conventions, and—most satisfyingly—actually managing to be funny.
The team was introduced in the pages of Showcase #62 (1966) by longtime fan/writer/editor E. Nelson Bridwell and artist Joe Orlando, and soon graduated to its own title. The story begins with the aging (and less-than-athletic) members of the Freedom Brigade being summoned by the Megalopolis police force to defend the city from the menace of a mad scientist. Quickly realizing that their crime-fighting days are well behind them, the Patriot, Lady Liberty, and their fellow Freedom Brigade members decide to send their children instead. Sadly, the younger generation lack their parents’ awesome crime-fighting skills, but nevertheless decide to band together as the aptly named Inferior Five.
The team’s leader was young cartoonist Myron Victor who, as the comic declared, “used to be a ninety-seven-pound weakling before losing weight.” With no powers whatsoever, Victor dressed himself in a jester’s costume, to illustrate the futility of his crime-fighting career, and went by the unheroic name of Merryman. Rotund Herman Cramer was the Blimp (“He flies like a bird with the speed of a snail”), who sadly did not inherit the incredible running prowess of his father, Captain Swift. The politically incorrect Dumb Bunny (“stronger than an ox … and almost as intelligent!”) was beautiful but vacant model Athena Tremor, who wore a bunny-girl costume, complete with fluffy tail and ears. The team’s strongman was beatnik beach-bum Leander Brent (“more powerful than a locomotive, but always getting derailed”), whose accident-prone bumbling earned him the name Awkwardman. Rounding out the group was the White Feather (“the only bird who’s chicken!”), also known as glamour photographer William King, whose archery skills were somewhat undermined by his abject cowardice. The group communicated using telephones known as the Lukewarm Line, and rode about the city in their jalopy, the Inferi-Car.
Bridwell had a real talent for humor, which meant that the comic emphasized laughs over thrills. Indeed, with villains like Dr. Gruesome, the Sparrow, and the Masked Swastika (an armor-clad Napoleon Bonaparte look-alike), the title was always lighthearted. Another unusual aspect of the comic was its wholesale lampooning of Marvel’s all-conquering heroes, who involuntarily guest-starred in many strips, frequently as rather pathetic villains. The Hulk became the Man Mountain, the Sub-Mariner was Prince Nabob the Submoron, and the Fantastic Four were the Kookie Quartet, while Spider-Man, Thor, the X-Men, and Iron Man were also affectionately parodied. Marvel replied with its own spoof comic, Not Brand Echh, but in that book by-and-large concentrated on satirizing its own characters (presumably being reluctant to give publicity to its rivals).
Perhaps the strip’s most ambitious moment was in issue #6, in a bizarre story titled “How to Make a Bomb,” which featured the Five taking a tour of DC’s offices, and starred pretty much the company’s full editorial team. Among other incidents, artists Carmine Infantino and Mike Sekowsky were shown having a fight, and DC owner Irwin Donenfeld was depicted as a lollipop-sucking child! Sadly, the comic got lost in the camp craze and, after ten issues of its own title, it was canceled, leaving in its wake a small, but enthusiastic, cult following.
After a long absence from print, Dumb Bunny turned up in the 1991 Angel and the Ape miniseries. But it was in the twenty-first century that the Inferior Five’s time finally came once more. Merryman made a surprise appearance in Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis: Superman Beyond (October 2008-March 2009), which, in a touch of meta-fiction, revealed him to be the “King of Limbo” for long missing superheroes. Dumb Bunny returned in Ambush Bug: Year None #3 (November 2008). Then writer J. Michael Straczynski brought back the entire Inferior Five in the comic The Brave and the Bold #35 (August 2010), in which Dumb Bunny revealed that she was not as dumb as she has pretended to be all these years. —DAR & PS