It has been suggested that Challengers of the Unknown (alternate series) be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since April 2024.
Challengers of the Unknown
Challengers of the Unknown #1 (1958), cover art by Jack Kirby.
Publication information
PublisherDC Comics
First appearanceShowcase #6 (February 1957)
Created byJack Kirby (possibly with Joe Simon or Dave Wood)
In-story information
Base(s)Challengers Mountain
Member(s)Kyle "Ace" Morgan
Matthew "Red" Ryan
Leslie "Rocky" Davis
Walter Mark "Prof" Haley
June Robbins

The Challengers of the Unknown is a fictional group of adventurers appearing in comic books published by DC Comics. The quartet of adventurers explored paranormal occurrences while facing several fantastic menaces.[1]

The characters' provenance is uncertain. Various sources credit the group as the sole creation of artist and storyteller Jack Kirby,[2] a co-creation with writer Dave Wood[3] or a co-creation with Kirby's former partner Joe Simon.[4][5] Following the end of the Challengers comic, DC has revived the characters in different incarnations over the years.

Some have claimed that Kirby reworked the basic concept of the series with Stan Lee in 1961 to create The Fantastic Four, the first creation that marked the rise of Marvel Comics.[6]

Publication history

The adventuring quartet the Challengers of the Unknown debuted in Showcase #6 (February 1957), in an uncredited story attributed to Jack Kirby for art and to Kirby and Dick Wood for script, under editor Jack Schiff.[7]

The series continued in the bimonthly Showcase for three more appearances (#7, 11–12, April 1957, December 1957 – February 1958)[8] then moved to its own title, starting with issue #1 (May 1958).[9] Kirby moved on after issue #8 (July 1959), with Bob Brown succeeding him as artist.[10] The title continued through issue #75 (September 1970), followed by two reprint issues. The series was canceled with issue #77 in 1971 (January 1971). In 1973, three reprint issues were published (#78–80).[10][11] The team’s lineup was briefly enhanced with the inclusion of the paranormal sensitive Corrina Stark toward the end of this run.

Revivals

The Challengers had a short-lived 1976–77 revival in Super-Team Family #8–10. The group then returned to its own title continuing the number with #81. During this period, they were joined by Deadman and Swamp Thing, and associate June Robbins got a uniform and official status. No explanation was given for Corinna Stark's departure, nor June's joining the team. The revived series was canceled with issue #87 in 1978. Adventure Comics Digest #493–497 (1982) featured an expanded version of the team's origin.

The Challengers returned in a limited series, Challengers of the Unknown (vol. 2) (1991), by writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale. It ran eight issues and was reprinted in trade paperback as Challengers of the Unknown Must Die! (2004). This series depicted the Challengers in middle age, breaking up after a tragic accident and coming back together as a team. Loeb hoped for a monthly title, and planned at least a second limited series, but neither volume materialized. Elements of this revival later appeared in several Superboy stories around the turn of the millennium, as a second, unrelated group had a title in the late 1990s as part of the Weirdoverse line.

In 2000, DC published a one-shot, Silver Age: Challengers of the Unknown, done in the style of the original Silver Age of Comic Books Challengers.

Fictional group history

The roster included Ace Morgan, Prof Haley, Rocky Davis and Red Ryan, with their occasional companion June Robbins.[12] Ryan was killed and briefly replaced by his younger brother Marty, a pop singer who used the anagram ID of Tino Manarry. Red Ryan returned from the dead and Tino was written out after suffering an injury that left him blind. Toward the end of the original series, a woman with an occult background named Corinna Stark acted as a fifth member of the team.

Countdown to Final Crisis

Prepublication solicitations for various Countdown to Final Crisis tie-ins referred to the group of Donna Troy, Jason Todd, Kyle Rayner, and "Bob" (a nefarious, renegade "purist" Monitor), as "Challengers from Beyond". This group went on a quest through the newly formed multiverse to find Ray Palmer, whom Bob claimed was essential to the survival of the universe. Eventually the Earth heroes were betrayed by Bob, who sought to kill Palmer, rather than protect him or acquire his aid. Palmer, Troy, Todd, and Rayner found themselves involved in a war between the Monitors and Monarch's forces. Later they traveled to Apokolips, where they teamed up with Jimmy Olsen, Forager, Karate Kid and Triplicate Girl. After returning to Earth, Troy, Rayner, Forager, and Palmer decided to team up again. They traveled to the Monitors' headquarters, where they informed the shocked beings that they would be watching over them as a sort of interdimensional border guards.

The Brave and the Bold

The 2007 revival of The Brave and the Bold series features a storyline involving the Challengers. Destiny of the Endless reveals to Supergirl and Lobo that his Book of Destiny has changed because there appeared to be men who existed, but were not recorded in the book, and their undocumented actions made the book unreliable. Destiny cast the book away, and it was eventually recovered by Batman and Green Lantern with the help of the Challengers, the men in question, who become the new holders of the book. Destiny later reclaims the book.

Leslie "Rocky" Davis appears regularly in Doom Patrol, in which he serves as something of a counselor to the members of that team, and resides on Oolong Island.

Post-Flashpoint

Main articles: New 52 and Flashpoint (comics)

In 2011, the DC Universe was dramatically altered, giving very different back stories to many of its heroes and villains. This version of the Challengers incorporates elements of the original and 1990s lineups.

The Challengers were formed for a reality television contest, when several notable people were assembled by archaeologist presenter Clay Brody for his "Challengers" program. Clay, the contestants, producer June, and pilots Ace and Maverick, were lost in the Himalayas when their plane crashed under mysterious circumstances.[13] All but one of them showed up weeks later, remembering a recuperation in Nanda Parbat, in which the city's elder told them to beware the unknown, but also to challenge it. Returning to civilization, the group found a talisman that had led Clay to pick them, and a note explaining that it was one of a set.

The Challengers program was retooled to take advantage of the quest. With their home base on a Metropolis soundstage dubbed "Challengers Mountain", the group sought out the talismans in far-flung corners of the world, usually accompanied by some oddity, like warrior statues or giant-ant-spewing portals. Their greatest initial challenge came when in a short period their show was cancelled and they were attacked by their dead friend, "Ace" the pilot. Though he killed two of them, they managed to defeat him, and the survivors vowed to find the rest of the talismans and save the world.

The original Challengers Prof, Ace, Red, and Rocky were on a mission on an Earth in the Dark Multiverse when Prof was badly wounded. He figured out how to use the dark energy to heal himself. In doing so he inadvertently sent his dark multiverse counterpart to the multiverse. The Dark Prof created a new Challengers that he could use to collect the remains of an ancient god whose remains were flung through time and space when the Source Wall was destroyed. The Dark Prof recruits Trina Alvarez, Moses Barber, Krunch, and Bethany Hopkins as the most current incarnation of the team. They soon discover his evil intentions and send him back to the Dark Multiverse, saving Ace, Red, Rocky and Prof in the process.[14]

Alternative versions

Main article: Challengers of the Unknown (alternate series)

DC published two other series, also titled Challengers of the Unknown, featuring the original Challengers' concept combined with a new set of characters.

The Challengers were revamped by writer Steven Grant in vol. 3 (1997), which had a totally new group of characters and was one of four series making up the Weirdoverse group of titles. This ongoing series ran 18 issues, through 1998. This team of paranormal investigators met the original Challengers and even had Rocky agree to advise them.

One more revamp was done by Howard Chaykin in a six-issue miniseries (vol.   4, 2004–2005). This series had another new group of characters and was entirely unrelated to the previous two incarnations.

Fictional character biographies

When acquaintances miraculously survive a plane crash unscathed, they conclude that since they are "living on borrowed time" they should band together for hazardous adventures. The four—pilot Kyle "Ace" Morgan, daredevil Matthew "Red" Ryan, strong and slow-witted Leslie "Rocky" Davis, and scientist Walter Mark "Prof" Haley—became the Challengers of the Unknown.

Soon famous, the Challengers accept many "unknown challenges" from The Pentagon, mad scientists, and people with a problem. Over time the "Challs" establish the hollowed-out Challengers Mountain as headquarters. Later they adopt an hourglass logo to symbolize time running out. They encounter genies, common and sophisticated thieves, rocs, aliens and robots good and bad. Their adventures later veer toward superheroics, and take in everything from occult menaces to Bermuda Triangle mysteries. The Challengers travel through space, time, and other dimensions. They encounter the likes of the Doom Patrol, Deadman, Swamp Thing, Jonny Double, and the Sea Devils, with whom they fight the criminal group Scorpio.[15] June Robbins, a computer genius and archaeologist, joined the Challengers for many adventures as an "honorary" or "girl" Challenger. June first officially joins the team after the rogue robot 'Ultivac' seemingly kills one of the original Challengers. However that man returns thanks to heroic efforts of modern medical science.[16]

When Red is killed,[17] a teen rock star/engineering genius immediately wages a vendetta against the three-man team. "Tino Mannaray" turns out to be Martin Ryan, Red's kid brother, who blames the team for his death. Red eventually returns; though blown up, he had been dosed with shape-changing Liquid Light and rendered amnesiac, but still nearly conquered the Pacific as a Tiki god.

As the team's challenges become more occult, Red's brother Tino is blinded. Red donates an eye to his brother and dons an eye patch. Eventually Red receives an eye transplant. Prof becomes possessed by an evil spirit and is shot by a villain. While he recovers, Corinna Stark, a mysterious blonde with mystical knowledge, invites herself onto the team. The Challengers fight occult alien-monsters in backwoods villages and dark dreams, and Rocky and Red fight for Corinna's affection.

Challengerville

The Challs are later semi-retired, their mountain a theme park, and their adventures disregarded as cooked-up articles in a tabloid, The Tattletale. The nearby town has renamed itself Challengerville, managing to thrive on the team's name. A cosmic entity, which prides itself as "the personification of all evil", influences the entity Multi-Man to blow up the mountain. The town is destroyed. Hundreds die, including, seemingly, Prof and June.[18] The surviving Challengers are placed on trial, but eventually freed with the testimony of Superman. They are, however, ordered to disband.[19]

A tabloid reporter, Moffet, becomes involved with the group after several unexplained incidents. Moffet begins to piece together many seemingly unrelated massacres. Red became a violent, vigilante mercenary. Ace becomes an addled mystic, losing new-found friends due to inattention and incompetence. Rocky becomes lost in a life of luxury and ends up in an insane asylum.

Eventually the three reunite, and with Moffet's aid, find a strange portal near what was once Challengerville. They discover Prof and June, pregnant, "alive" in a strange "phantom zone". The dark demon confronts them and the final battle comes down to Moffet and a neutron bomb. The decision to attack is literally taken out of his hands by Multi-Man, who sacrifices himself to destroy the demon.[20]

"The New Challengers of the Unknown", including ghostly Prof and June, were poised to take on menaces in the dark corners of the world.[20]

Later, four new Challengers pursue X-Files-like horrors. They are Clay Brody, NASCAR driver; Brenda Ruskin, physicist; Kenn Kawa, radical games designer; and Marlon Corbet, commercial pilot, who also miraculously survived a plane crash. They stopped sacrificial wackos, drug-juiced zombies, vengeful ghosts, Amazon cults, Lovecraftian monsters, mass suicides, humming buildings, and other oddities. They were advised by Rocky Davis, older and grayer and alone. It was eventually revealed that the original Challengers were dematerialized by a mad scientist's ray-weapon. The same ray caused both plane crashes, as well as others. Soon the original Challs reappeared, helped the young Challs defeat the madman, then walked back into oblivion (minus a wounded Rocky) to shut down a runaway Tesla field. The young Challengers vowed to fight on.

Superboy discovers the missing Challengers—Ace, Red, Prof, and June—in Hypertime. The team was waging guerrilla war against Black Zero (a Superboy variant). With Black Zero defeated, the team returns to Earth, but loses Red along the way. Reunited with Rocky in Metropolis, hosted by Rip Hunter, the original Challengers vow to explore Hypertime, "the greatest unknown", to find Red.

Two Challengers partake in Infinite Crisis. Rocky Davis and Prof Haley help stem the escape of prisoners from Blackgate Prison.[21] Rocky fights in the Battle of Metropolis. He is one of dozens of heroes fighting the opposing army of the Secret Society of Super Villains. The Society is ultimately defeated.[22]

Later, on a world without superheroes, a blogger, a hip hop artist, an eco-terrorist, and two others discovers they'd been genetically enhanced and chip-programmed to be soldier-pawns by the Hegemony, a cabal of billionaires who secretly run that world. Made slaves on a Moon base, three Challengers blow up the base, escape to Earth, and declare war on the Hegemony until (like the obliquely mentioned earlier Challengers) their "borrowed time" runs out.

Other versions

The Challengers make a brief appearance in the Elseworlds miniseries Conjurers, set in an alternate DCU where magic is a part of mainstream society. These are the "Volume 3" Challengers, but given the nicknames of the originals: Kenn is "Prof", Clay is "Rocky", Brenda is "Red", and Marlon is "Ace". Since Kenn was always shown as the most "mystical" of the new Challs, it makes sense that he would be "Prof" in a magical universe, rather than Brenda, the team's scientist.

During Superboy's trip through Hypertime, referenced above, he briefly visits an Elseworld in which the Challengers were himself, Ace, Guardian, and Dubbilex. The June who arrives in the DCU at the end of that story is also an Elseworlds version, coming from a universe where she was a full Challenger from the beginning. She was apparently exchanged with the June of the main timeline when she was struck by Hypertime energies.

The Challengers also made brief appearances in JLA: Another Nail (when all time periods meld together) and The Adventures of Superman Annual #7 (as part of a strikeforce of non-powered heroes).

They were prominently featured in Darwyn Cooke's DC: The New Frontier miniseries (2003–2004). Various members were essential in many battles against menaces that arose throughout the series.

In the 1996 crossover series Amalgam Comics, the Challengers were merged with the Fantastic Four to become Challengers of the Fantastic.

Villains

The Challengers of the Unknown have faced an array of villains:

In other media

Television

Film

Miscellaneous

Awards

The 1950–60s series won the 1967 Alley Awards for Best Non-Super-Powered Group Title and Best Normal Adventure Group.

Collected editions

Silver Age

Collections of Silver Age Challengers of the Unknown comics
Title Material collected Year ISBN
Challengers of the Unknown Archive Volume 1 Showcase #6–7, 11–12, Challengers of the Unknown (vol  1) #1–2 2003 978–1563899973
Challengers of the Unknown Archive Volume 2 Challengers of the Unknown (vol. 1) #3–8 2004 978-1401201531
Showcase Presents: Challengers of the Unknown, Vol. 1 Showcase #6–7, 11–12, Challengers of the Unknown (vol. 1) #1–17 2006 978-1401210878
Showcase Presents: Challengers of the Unknown, Vol. 2 Challengers of the Unknown (vol. 1) #18–37 2008 978-1401217259
Challengers Of The Unknown Omnibus by Jack Kirby Showcase #6–7, 11–12, Challengers of the Unknown (vol. 1) #1–8 2012 978-1401234744

Bronze Age

Collections of Bronze Age Challengers of the Unknown comics
Title Material collected Year ISBN
Swamp Thing: The Bronze Age Vol. 2 Swamp Thing (vol. 1) #14–24, Challengers of the Unknown (vol. 1) #81–87,
DC Comics Presents #8, The Brave and the Bold (vol. 1) #122,176
2020 978-1401294229

Modern Age

Collections of Modern Age Challengers of the Unknown comics
Title Material collected Year ISBN
Challengers of the Unknown Must Die! Challengers of the Unknown (vol. 2) #1–8 2004 978-1401203740
Challengers of the Unknown: Stolen Moments, Borrowed Time Challengers of the Unknown (vol. 4) #1–6 2006 978-1401209414
DC Universe Presents Vol. 1 featuring Deadman & Challengers of the Unknown DC Universe Presents #1–8 2012 978-1401237165
New Challengers New Challengers #1–6 2018 978-1401283445

Footnotes

  1. ^ Cowsill, Alan; Irvine, Alex; Korte, Steve; Manning, Matt; Wiacek, Win; Wilson, Sven (2016). The DC Comics Encyclopedia: The Definitive Guide to the Characters of the DC Universe. DK Publishing. p. 63. ISBN 978-1-4654-5357-0.
  2. ^ Challengers of the Unknown at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on April 14, 2012.
  3. ^ George, Milo (ed.) The Comics Journal: Jack Kirby (Fantagraphics 2002) p. 79 says "..depicted by Kirby and Dave Wood in 1957, the "Challengers of the Unknown"..."
  4. ^ Wallace, Dan (2008), "Challengers of the Unknown", in Dougall, Alastair (ed.), The DC Comics Encyclopedia, New York: Dorling Kindersley, p. 77, ISBN 978-0-7566-4119-1, OCLC 213309017
  5. ^ "The End of Simon & Kirby, Chapter 7, on His Own". 28 May 2006.
  6. ^ "Challengers of the Unknown = Fantastic Four". The Great American Novel.
  7. ^ Showcase #6 at the Grand Comics Database.
  8. ^ Showcase (DC, 1956 series) at the Grand Comics Database.
  9. ^ Schelly, William (2013). American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1950s. TwoMorrows Publishing. pp. 164–165. ISBN 9781605490540.
  10. ^ a b Challengers of the Unknown (DC, 1958 series) at the Grand Comics Database.
  11. ^ Sacks, Jason; Dallas, Keith (2014). American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1970s. TwoMorrows Publishing. p. 114. ISBN 978-1605490564.
  12. ^ Cowsill, Alan; Irvine, Alex; Manning, Matthew K.; McAvennie, Michael; Wallace, Daniel (2019). DC Comics Year By Year: A Visual Chronicle. DK Publishing. p. 78. ISBN 978-1-4654-8578-6.
  13. ^ DC Universe Presents #6(2012)
  14. ^ New Challengers #1–6 (2018)
  15. ^ Challengers of the Unknown #47 (December 1965 – January 1966).
  16. ^ Showcase #7 (April 1957)
  17. ^ Challengers of the Unknown #55 (April–May 1957).
  18. ^ Challengers of the Unknown (vol. 2) #1 (March 1991).
  19. ^ Challengers of the Unknown (vol. 2) #2 (April 1991).
  20. ^ a b Challengers of the Unknown (vol. 2) #8 (October 1991).
  21. ^ Villains United: Infinite Crisis Special #1
  22. ^ Infinite Crisis #7