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(pop culture)

The “gritification” of the comic book super-hero—which began with Marvel Comics’ Punisher in the 1970s and continued building toward an artistic peak in 1986 with DC Comics’ Batman: The Dark Knight Returns—went deliberately over the top in 1983 with the creation of Lobo. The misbegotten, chalk-white, black-clad brainchild of writer Roger Slifer and artist Keith Giffen, Lobo (who debuted in DC’s Omega Men #3) embodies all that is nasty, raucous, and unsavory in the world of superpowered beings. Lobo, an anti-hero whose speech is peppered with ersatz expletives such as “frag,” “fraggin’,” “bastich,” and “Feetal’s Gizz!” (a reference to the gizzard of a particular individual), despises every decent thing usually associated with the typical comic book hero, including (but not limited to) short hair, square jaws, democracy, equality for women, equality for men, basic rights, flags, and the notion that good always trumps evil. He is extremely powerful, possessing enough raw strength to go toe-to-toe with members of the Green Lantern Corps (L.E.G.I.O.N. #4, 1989) and even Superman himself, which he has done at various points throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

Lobo has the ability to survive the rigors of airless space, the capacity to track individuals across thousands of light-years of empty space, and possesses his people’s inborn power to clone himself from small amounts of tissue; this last ability, coupled with his rapid healing, renders him effectively unkillable, short of complete vaporization. It has been said that Lobo can never die permanently because he is considered too nasty to be admitted either to heaven or to hell (Lobo’s Back #4, 1992). His “turn-ons” include drunkenness and mindless violence. Although he has demonstrated frightening mastery of all manner of weapons, sometimes going into combat with guns and grenades, Lobo is a street-brawler at heart, preferring to use either his fists or a large metal chain with a hook at one end. His most serious weakness is his tendency to continue a fight long past the point at which any rational person would retreat. But since most other beings in the universe fear Lobo, this seldom presents a serious problem for him. Because of the moral ambiguity that characterized many superhero comics published on the cusp of the new millennium, Lobo’s status as a superhero (as opposed to a supervillain) is highly debatable; but his reluctant association with legitimate superhero teams—and the fact that he often does battle against miscreants who are even worse than he is—often places him on the side of the good guys, however marginally or unintentionally.

Born in 1599 C.E.. on the distant, idyllic planet Czarnia, a world that had never known conflict or strife of any kind, Lobo is pure, undistilled evil; indeed, his name is Khundish for “one who devours your entrails and thoroughly enjoys it” (any resemblance to a terrestrial word meaning “wolf” is completely fortuitous, as it turns out). Moments after his birth, Lobo makes his first attempt to live up to his name by biting off four of his midwife’s fingers, driving the poor woman insane; Lobo then grabs a scalpel and attacks several doctors. Although no one on his homeworld knows for sure how, or why, such a malevolent serpent could appear in the Garden of Eden that is Czarnia, some theorize that Lobo’s evil is perhaps a statistically inevitable counterbalance to an otherwise perfect, “evil-free” environment.

As Lobo matures, his evil steadily grows in intensity and sophistication. Consequently, the Czarnian body count rises in a steady tide. All attempts to appeal to Lobo’s better nature fail simply because he lacks one (a claim Lobo himself often makes); all efforts to threaten Lobo fail because no one on Czarnia possesses any proficiency whatsoever in arms, violence, or even intimidation. As a toddler, Lobo forces Wolfman Wilf, the DJ of Cosmic Rock Zombie Radio, to play one song continuously: “I Killed My Folks (No Accident)” by Oedipus Wrecks. Lobo then commandeers a medical facility and forces its staff to implant a radio receiver into his brain, giving him unlimited exposure to the Wrecks’ not-so-dulcet tones; he murders the doctors afterward and burns their clinic to the ground. At the tender age of five, Lobo rips out the throat of Egon N’g, his elementary school principal, during a fit of pique. “My faith in the natural goodness of the scheme of things has been severely shaken, if not totally destroyed,” the dying principal writes to his countrymen, in his own blood (Lobo vol. 1 #1, 1990). “I rejoin the Universal One. Farewell, paradise! PS.—For your own sake, create the concepts of police, punishment, and prison.”

As a teenager, Lobo forms his own heavy metal band (The Main Man and the Several Scum-Buckets), which competes at the All-Czarnia 9-Octave Chime-Haiku Festival; the band’s deadly decibels end up killing all of Lobo’s musical sidemen, electrocuting the contest’s judges, and wreaking fiery mayhem on the audience—leaving Lobo peeved at his failure to take first prize. When Lobo reaches the age of eighteen, his evil finally engulfs all of Czarnia when his desire to be unique in all the universe leads him to genetically engineer an insidious, flesh-burrowing, flying insect that (very painfully) wipes out his entire species—except, of course, for Lobo himself, who merely laughs at the horrific carnage he has wrought (Lobo vol. 1 #1 and #4, 1990-1991; Lobo vol. 2 #0, 1994; DC Universe Heroes Secret Files #1, 1999).

Hopping onto his spacegoing motorcycle (actually a customized SpazFrag 666 single-seater superluminal spacecraft with a miniaturized turbocharged seventeen-liter power plant and a large-fanged skull mounted on the front), Lobo abandons his murdered homeworld to become the galaxy’s most feared bounty hunter and assassin, a calling he pursues with great relish. At first, he specializes in “Dead or Alive” warrants, far preferring the former to the latter. He also sells his services to private clients, but can be relied upon to murder double-crossers and prospective clients who make insulting offers, or those who set him to tasks he finds boring; in Lobo’s “plus” column, he tends to “stay bought” once hired, and the more violence a job entails, the likelier he is to work cheaply or even for free (he likes to chase people).

During his many unsavory manhunting missions, Lobo’s few arguably redeeming characteristics become evident: his strict adherence to whatever promises he makes (he would prefer to kill the promisee than to renege on the promise itself), and his undying affection for his “fishies” (Lobo’s term of endearment for the space-dwelling dolphins that accompany him in his interstellar travels), whose safety he protects using all the considerable violence at his disposal; Lobo calls the creatures his “cutesy-wutesy flying cosmic-type dolphin buddies.” After Garryn Bek of L.E.G.I.O.N. (Licensed Extra-Governmental Interstellar Operatives Network) accidentally kills one of Lobo’s dolphins, the assassin comes after Bek, intent on slowly torturing him to death (L.E.G.I.O.N. #3, 1989).

Lobo eventually catches up to Bek and breaks his legs (L.E.G.I.O.N. #6, 1989), but along the way, he encounters L.E.G.I.O.N. member Vril Dox II, the adopted son of Superman’s android nemesis, Brainiac. Although Lobo and Dox, being of similar temperament, get along at first, they inevitably come to superhuman blows. Distracted by the sudden disappearance of Cosmic Rock Zombie Radio from the radio built into his brain, Lobo loses the fight and is forced to accept the consequences of a wager he’d made with Dox: L.E.G.I.O.N. membership (L.E.G.I.O.N. #4, 1989). After exploiting Lobo’s self-cloning powers by using several duplicate Lobos to defeat a galactic drug kingpin named Kanis-Biz, Dox poisons Lobo and his clones, de-powering them and removing their duplicative abilities. Lobo and one of his clones escape destruction by Dox’s missiles, however (L.E.G.I.O.N. #7, 1989), and Lobo faces his last remaining clone in single combat on the planet Kannit. The original Lobo is presumably the winner, though the matter of the victor’s identity isn’t settled definitively (Lobo vol. 2 #9, 1994). Lobo (or his clone) later joins R.E.B.E.L.S. (the Revolutionary Elite Brigade to Eradicate L.E.G.I.O.N. Supremacy), a group formed by Dox after his renegade son, Lyrl, takes over L.E.G.I.O.N. (R.E.B.E.L.S. #1, 1994).

After Lyrl Dox’s defeat, Vril Dox II releases Lobo from R.E.B.E.L.S. (R.E.B.E.L.S. #6, 1995), whereupon the assassin resumes concentrating on freelance bounty hunting and personal business. When the radio station to which his brain-mounted receiver is tuned changes to an all soul-music format (deep-sixing Lobo’s omnipresent favorite song), Lobo sells his soul (as sullied as it is) to a villain named Neron in exchange for having the radio receiver removed from his cranium; Lobo then shoots the disc jockey responsible for this crisis and immolates the radio station (Lobo vol. 2 #22, 1995).

Throughout the 1990s, Lobo’s image was everywhere, appearing on countless trading cards, T-shirts (images of Lobo saying “Bite Me, Fanboy” were quite popular), figurines (including a beautiful sculpture based upon art by fan-favorite British Lobo artist, Simon Bisley), buttons, and posters. He found his way into numerous best-selling comics miniseries and one-shot comics, including pairings with such DC mainstays as Superman, Batman, Deadman, and other companies’ characters (such as Dark Horse’s the Mask, Fleetway-Quality’s Judge Dredd, and even an unholy one-issue merger with Marvel’s Howard the Duck). Perhaps a victim of his own overexposure, Lobo’s own ongoing series finally ended with issue #64 in 1999 (though a miniseries written by Giffen, Lobo Unbound, appeared in 2003 and 2004).

During Lobo’s subsequent years on the guest-star circuit, variant replicas of the character have appeared, such as L’il Lobo, a “cute kid” version of the assassin (Young Justice #20, 2000), and Slo-Bo, a slower, weaker, genetically defective “wimpy” redaction of the much-feared assassin (Young Justice #38, 2001); these “tweaked” takes on Lobo were conceived by veteran comics writer and novelist Peter David and artist Todd Nauck, as a way of fixing what David has characterized as one of the “worst characters of all time.” But these recent radical changes weren’t the first ones Lobo has undergone; in 1992, he had been briefly reincarnated as a woman, and was even transformed into a squirrel for a short time (Lobo’s Back #3). But whatever alterations Lobo’s many creative handlers may have in store for him in the future, one core principle remains as dependable as the assassin’s penchant for bad behavior: his dogged persistence. When Lobo is on the job, he allows absolutely nothing, and no one, to stand in his way. —MAM

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