A Tribute to the of

The most recent Batman Brave and the Bold animated series episode had an appearance at the beginning by the Challengers of the Unknown. As luck would have it, the Challs had been on my mind and since they've been somewhat underrepresented here, perhaps it's a good opportunity to check out one of their adventures here. The tale I'd been thinking of was from issue #48 from February/March of 1966 when the Challengers of the Unknown meet none other than the Doom Patrol in "Twilight of the Challengers!" Cover and interior artwork for the book were done by Bob Brown with Arnold Drake handling scripting chores and Murray Boltinoff in the editor's chair.

Things begin dramatically when the Doom Patrol arrive at Challenger HQ in response to a distress signal only to find all four members, Ace, Prof, Rocky and Red, slumped around an aircraft in death-like poses. The Chief, Niles Caulder, directs Robotman, Cliff Steele, to use his extra-sensitive electronic ears to monitor for a pulse. Cliff detects one, but describes it as "…about as faint as a feather dropping on a Persian carpet." Swiftly Negative Man is released from Larry Trainor's body to carry Ace and Red to the Doom Patrol's helicopter while Robotman hefts Rocky and Prof and for good measure drapes the weakened Trainor over his shoulders to that they can all be transported back to Doom Patrol headquarters.

Once there, the Chief has the four adventurers placed into a "Life Cabinet" which looks an awful lot like a cryogenic apparatus. Dr. Caulder then uses low level radio energy to directly tap into Ace Morgan's brain to try and determine what happened to the team. The disembodied voice of Morgan explains that among other duties the Challengers maintain an island lock-up containing four super criminals dubbed the Challenger-Haters, to include Kra, an alien robot kept in check with the substance that paralyzes him; water, Volcano Man, subdued by a thermal control belt, Drabney, a garden variety criminal who commits his crimes with a telekinetic helmet and Multi-Man, an alien who can, with the aid of advanced chemicals, change into any living form.

After delivering the monthly supplies, Prof notices Rocky holding a rabbit. Rock says he found him on the beach. Prof responds that nothing is alive on the island with the exception of the prisoners and insists he get rid of it. That's when a problem arises. The furry creature won't let go of Rocky's arm and said arm begins to turn blue from lack of circulation. Point blank rounds into the creature do no good and Multi-Man gloats that you cannot kill what is not alive and he reveals that it's a Chemo-Zooid; an artificial life form he created in his makeshift lab. Then he calmly demands that they be released or Rocky loses his arm to gangrene. Despite Rocky's opposition, Ace releases Multi-Man, who dissolves the rabbit, but before much more can transpire, he summons more of the Chemo-Zooid rabbits and soon the Challs are overcome and the Challenger-Haters go their merry way, ending Part I.

Part II is titled "Kingdom of Darkness!" and Ace's story continues with the Challengers on the verge of blackout just before Prof locates the solvent used by Multi-Man to dissolve his nefarious creatures. As the team recovers, Ace suggests they arrange to be "dead," with the cooperation of the world media and to lay low until the Challenger-Haters surface. So, the four members hole up in a Florida motel while Multi-Man furiously works to build Multi-Woman, a huge android, as he continues to plot his scheme to dominate the Earth.

Back at the Florida motel room, the Challs comb through newspapers for clues and come across an intriguing snippet about the third recent mysterious disappearance of a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.   Some research reveals that each vessel contained large quantities of metals and chemicals. The team decides to investigate with their own ship and soon witness another vessel being pulled down into the depths. Boarding a mini-sub the Challs discover a massive pneumatic tube leading the ship to an underwater city. Exiting the sub and utilizing diving equipment, the team decides to investigate further. One by one they encounter the Challenger-Haters and battle them into submission until Multi-Man, taking on the form of a huge jellyfish, stings them with a venom that causes great pain and ultimately paralyzing comas. They struggle to their aircraft and are barely able to land and call the Doom Patrol for help before succumbing, ending Part II.

Part III's "Battle of the Female Titans!" opens with the Chief rapidly formulating a plan to save the Challs. Soon Robotman is dispatched with some special gear to the underwater city courtesy of Negative Man. He takes down Kra, and then swiftly dons a diving suit prior to provoking Multi-Man. Once the villain takes on the jellyfish form again, Cliff removes part of his stinger to take back to the Chief for purposes of formulating an antidote. Soon the Challengers are revived while the Challenger-Haters leave a booby-trapped underwater city. Unfortunately for poor Drabney, he failed to get the memo and when swimming back he sets off the explosion, destroying it and himself.

Elsewhere the remaining members of the Challenger-Haters along with the massive Multi-Woman are about to be engaged by the Challengers of the Unknown and the Doom Patrol. While the "boys" are working on Kra and Volcano Man, Elasti-Girl is expanding to the same skyscraper size as Multi-Woman (with Multi-Man along for the ride) for their smack down. Ultimately Rita's ability to both expand and contract puts her in good stead and she way lays her opponent while Multi-Man slips off.

Kra and Volcano Man are similarly subdued. Victory is short-lived, however, as Multi-Man trains a pistol on Dr. Niles Caulder, demanding the release of his teammates, which the Challs and DP regretfully perform.

But did the bad guys really get away? Only for the time being as the readers are directed to pick up Doom Patrol #102 for the conclusion to this crossover event.

Doom Patrol #102 carries the same credits with the exception of the interior art, which is provided by the great Bruno Premiani, so let's jump right in to "8 Against Eternity!," where we find an agitated Chief searching in vain for the rest of the Doom Patrol at HQ. He's received an urgent communication from the Challengers of the Unknown informing the Doom Patrol that they'll be there in an hour.

Segue to Robotman, who is entertaining children at the Mercy Hospital Carnival. He receives a message from the Chief to round up the others and get back to HQ on the double.

Elasti-Girl, aka Rita Farr is spending time at the pool of Steve Dayton, known as Mento, the fifth richest man in the world. Robotman finds her there and escorts her away after a mild scuffle with Mento and both wonder where Larry Trainor may be. It turns out the man who hosts Negative Man is at the controls of a supersonic jet for a joyride. He happens upon a missile test that is going awry and puts the aircraft on autopilot while Negative Man is deployed to deal with the menace. He is at first ineffective, but then takes advantage of an electrical storm, absorbing the energy and directing it at the missile.

Finally the members arrive at HQ where the Challengers have been waiting with Dr. Niles "Chief" Caulder. After some insults are hurled between Cliff and Rocky, they get down to business to try and triangulate the location of the Challenger-Haters. At that moment, the Chief drops the bombshell that he knows that Multi-Man is attempting to assemble an army of zombies. That stunning announcement ends Part I.

Part II is titled, "Zombies of Atlantis!" The Chief explains that legend holds that Atlantis sank into the ocean as the result of an active volcano shifting it downward and into the ocean. As it happens, at that precise moment, the Challenger-Haters are in that location beneath the sea where the civilization of Atlantis has indeed been preserved due to the lava shell encasing the land and creating a perfect vacuum. With the help of Kra's otherworldly science, they successfully revive Zatopa, the King of Atlantis. Multi-Man explains matters (luckily Zatopa speaks perfect English) and insists on the assistance of the Atlantean and his army, which Zatopa quickly agrees to.

Later, an ocean going vessel spots an army on horseback literally rising from the water onto a nearby Asian coast. Quickly, wielding advanced ray guns, they run roughshod over the local army and the cry goes out for calling in the U.N. for reinforcements.

Elsewhere, the Challengers and the Doom Patrol are rushing to the scene of Multi-Man's underwater city in an advanced rocket foil. Diving gear is donned and the two teams descend, only to be met by Multi-Man who goes through some major changes, first to a massive Manta-ray, then an enormous lobster, followed by a huge Rooster Fish, snagging members of both teams in the process. Elasti-Girl expands and grabs a giant clam to subdue the Rooster Fish, which promptly releases her teammates, but Multi-Man then converts himself into a school of sardines and scurries off while gloating about his ancient army marching on the capital city of Japorta. Ace Morgan instructs the team to split up to take on the twin challenges of the zombies in Japorta and the Challenger-Haters in the underwater city. The Chief, upon being brought up to date on the plans, promises to dispatch two more members for the team, closing out Part II.

Part III is called "The King Who Could Not Die!," and opens at the home of Gar Logan, aka Beast Boy. The doorbell soon announces the arrival of Mento, who has been sent to collect the changeling and assist the Chief in reinforcing the Challs and the Doom Patrol. Soon they've arrived on the ocean floor to seek out Multi-Man and his minions.

Near Japorta, Robotman, Larry Trainor, Rocky and Red are in hot pursuit of the Atlantean Army. After a brief battle, the subdued King Zapota explains that he is acting in accord with Multi-Man's wishes only because the villain holds Zapota's queen captive.

Meanwhile, on the ocean's floor, the rest of the team is taking on Volcano Man and Kra. Mento sends Volcano Man for a loop and Robotman outfoxes Kra while Elasti-Girl finds herself again engaging Multi-Woman and is again triumphant.

Beast Boy has joined the party to sabotage the whale Multi-Man has become. The changeling has become a mass of barnacles, dropping Multi-Man to the sea floor.

King Zapota is taken back to Atlantis courtesy of Negative Man and as he is placed by his queen, the roof to the dome encasing the city gives way, destroying Atlantis forever. Upon the destruction of the city, the remaining members of the Atlantean Army turned to dust, sparing Japorta and ending the entire episode.

As many of you are already aware, the Challengers of the Unknown was a creation that came to us courtesy of Jack Kirby, and they were first introduced in Showcase #6 right at the dawn of the Silver Age. It has been speculated with pretty solid observations to back it up, that the Challengers of the Unknown were a precursor to The Fantastic Four, with a similar origin story and enough overlaps between the two teams to lend credence to the notion.

After The King moved over to the competition, his original team of adventurers continued along for quite a few years, boasting a veritable Who's Who of writing talent to include France Herron, Arnold Drake, of course, Bill Finger, Bob Kanigher, Mike Friedrich and Denny O'Neil before the series fell to cancellation.

As a matter of fact, I discovered in the letter column of Doom Patrol #98 a suggestion from the afore mentioned Mike Friedrich (and unnamed others) to have a team-up between the Challs and the Doom Patrol, which one can only presume led to the above crossover adventure.

I do adore a good crossover story and this was certainly a good one, so I give it an 8 on the 10-point rating scale. Great characterization, nice artwork and a story that kept you engrossed; it truly represented some of the best the Silver Age had to offer and I can highly recommend this most enjoyable read.

Got a question, comment or feedback of any sort? We love hearing from you, so take advantage of my handy e-mail to pass along your thoughts: professor_the@hotmail.com.

I have high hopes that one of my interviews that are still out for edits will soon be ready for your reading pleasure, but one way or another, new material will be here again in about two weeks, so be sure to make plans to return as we continue to bring you the best of the Silver Age of DC comics.

Until next time...

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2010 by B.D.S.

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