Wednesday Comics: The Challengers of the Unknown
February 10, 2010
The Challengers of the Unknown are a team of adventurers from the Silver Age of DC Comics. They were created by the legendary Jack Kirby (possibly co-created with writer Dave Wood) and debuted in Showcase #6 (Feb. 1957). The Challengers would appear three more times in that anthology series (#12, shown here, was the last) before moving on to their own title, which ran for 80 issues and was canceled in 1973. (Kirby would leave the series after 12 issues to go work for Marvel Comics, where he would help create, among other things, the Fantastic Four.)
The original team roster was made up of Ace Morgan (test pilot), Red Ryan (daredevil), Rocky Davis (prize fighter), and Prof Haley (scientist). In later issues, June Robinson (computer genius and archaeologist) would often join the team on adventures. In their first story, all four men survive a plane crash and, because they are now “living on borrowed time,” they decide then and there to devote their life to danger, adventure, and heroism. Their escapades would pit them against both common criminals and supernatural beings. Monsters, aliens, time-travelers, and superheroes were all par for the course. Like their fellow Silver Age adventurers the Sea Devils, the Challengers of the Unknown have no super powers. And also like the Sea Devils, they would occasionally be menaced by giant cephalopods.
The “Challs” (as they are known to their fans) still show up from time to time in the modern DC Universe, and their most notable recent appearance is a story arc from the 2007 revival of The Brave and the Bold. They were also featured prominently in Darwyn Cook’s masterful mini-series DC: The New Frontier (2003-2004). DC has reprinted two volumes of the Challengers’ Silver Age stories for Showcase Presents, a line of inexpensive black and white trade paperbacks. The cover of Volume 1 (below) is a recolored version of the Kirby’s original cover of Showcase #12. Here the giant orange octopus has been given demonic glowing eyes, making its destruction of the Challs’ sporty wood-paneled motor boat seem even more malevolent!