by Aaron Einhorn
Miles Morales made his official debut this week in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1, but Spider-Man is hardly the only superhero who has a theme based around a bug. (And yes, I know spiders are arachnids, not insects, but they’re still called bugs. So there.)
With that in mind, and to welcome Miles to the pantheon of heroes who are based around a creepy-crawly creature, here’s a look at ten other great bug-based heroes who aren’t Spider-Man or Spider-Woman. And yes, this is just a look at the heroes. The list of bug-based villains is much, much longer.
10) The Green Hornet
Britt Reid is the Green Hornet. Yes, this newspaper publisher turned vigilante is a well known hero, thanks in no small part to his long-running radio series, his short-lived TV show and his recent film (in rough order of quality, in my not so humble opinion). He is unquestionably a bug-based hero, so why does he only rank number ten on this list? Well, partially because he makes no sense. At all.
First, his theme music is Flight of the Bumblebee. The bee. Not the hornet. Secondly, hornets aren’t green, but then again, there are plenty of colored animal superheroes who don’t match their real-life counterparts (one of whom you’ll find later on this list). But Reid has no superpowers, and his gadgets only loosely have anything to do with being insect-based. A gas gun? What insect uses a gas gun and a car?
Look, don’t get me wrong. I love the character of the Green Hornet, but he’s not really reflective of bugs other than in his name, so down to the bottom he goes.
9) Yellowjacket (Charlton Comics)
Yellowjacket is the first superhero to be published by the company that would eventually become Charlton Comics. Charlton Comics, of course, is the comics company that gave us the characters who would become the Watchmen, including another insect-themed hero you’ll find elsewhere in this list.
Yellowjacket’s secret identity is crime writer, Vince Harley. After a group of jewel robbers attempted to kill him by pouring a box of yellowjackets on him, he found that he had gained the ability to control the insects, and used that ability to fight crime while wearing a yellow costume with a distinctly yellow jacket and black and yellow striped cape.
Yellowjacket starred in his own title, Yellowjacket Comics, which was published for ten issues from 1944 to 1946. There was no artist or writer credited for the stories. These ten issues were published by “E. Levy/Frank Comunale”, which later became Charlton. When the title was renamed Jack in the Box, Yellowjacket appeared in the first issue, #11. He also appeared in TNT Comics #1.
Due to copyright laws at the time of his inception, Yellowjacket lapsed into the public domain on the 28th anniversary of his initial published appearance. He’s fairly unknown, but he had a great look, good powers, and he shares the name of another entry on the list. It’s something of a shame he didn’t survive the transition of other Charlton heroes to DC Comics.
8) The Black Widow
Ah, Natasha Romanov. Spy. Superhero. Seductive temptress. This red-headed beauty has been romantically involved with more superheroes than any other Marvel heroine – including the She-Hulk – and it’s not hard to see why she’s so tempting.
The Widow is beautiful. She’s brilliant. And she is one of the best hand-to-hand fighters in the Marvel Universe. Her Widow Stingers are somewhat inconsistently applied in power, and it’s true that other than the stingers, there is nothing particularly buglike about her – but she’s such a major player in the Marvel Universe it’s impossible to put together a list like this and not include her.
7) The Ant
From the official description from the Freedom Force video game:
# The Ant – John Miller was a nerdy high school student who was bullied and picked on often. One day, while carefully observing a colony of ants, a group of bullies shoved him onto the ant hill he was observing. As the ants began to swarm over him, he was struck by a bolt of Energy X, which imbued him with ant-like powers. As he moved through the city, experimenting with his new found powers, he noticed the same group of thugs entering a local candy store with the intent of robbing and vandalizing the store. Tying a scarf around his face to conceal his identity, Miller leaped through the entrance of the store and quickly dispatched the hooligans. From that day forward John Miller donned a superhero identity and vowed to use his new powers to defeat those who would prey on the weak as: The Ant.
Ok, so he’s a derivative homage of a character. But he was also one of the best parts of a very good (though greatly overlooked) video-game. The Ant was super-strong (seriously, throwing heavy things around is one of the best parts of the game), quick, and he could summon giant ants. What is there not to love?
6) The Fly
It is often forgotten that Archie Comics had their own group of superheroes, and The Fly was one of the best among them. Here’s his bio from Wikipedia:
Tommy Troy was an orphan hired by Ben (or Ezra) and Abigail March. Late one night, he tried wearing a ring with a fly-shaped emblem he found in their attic. The Marchs were wizards, and the ring summoned Turan, one of the Fly People.
Turan explained that, ages ago, the Fly People ruled the Earth. They used magic in their wars, in the ultimate one of which they reduced most of their population to common houseflies. Only a few Fly People managed to escape to another dimension, where they waited for “one person… pure of heart” to fight crime and greed, which were their own downfall. Tommy was that person. By rubbing the ring and saying “I wish I were the Fly,” he exchanged bodies with the other dimension and became a costumed adult superhero. To return to his own identity, all he had to do was utter his name.
The Fly was dressed in a predominately dark green leotard with yellow shorts and belt and a yellow over-the-head mask. A pair of goggle-like eye pieces covered his eyes and a set of “wings” were built into the collar area. Originally the wings were small decorations; when the character became capable of flight, the wings became larger and somehow fully functional.
The Fly was one of the few 60′s superheroes who carried a holstered weapon. The Buzz Gun, so named from the buzzing noise made when activated, was a handgun capable of dispensing non-lethal tranquillizer darts or stun rays, depending on setting.
Sadly, when DC comics acquired the Red Circle characters, they used his female counterpart, Fly-Girl. The Red Circle line was later dropped entirely by DC, so we probably won’t see any new stories about the Fly.
5) The Hornet
Ok, so this list is purposefully avoiding Spider-Man and his counterparts, but we’re going to briefly brake the rules as we look at Peter Parker’s alternate identities.
When Spider-Man was accused of murder during the Identity Crisis storyline (no, not that one), he donned four different costumes to continue saving lives without anyone knowing it was him. The Hornet costume was designed by Mary Jane Watson-Parker and the weapon gauntlets were designed by Spider-Man based on Ben Reilly’s stinger darts. The cybernetically-controlled wing harness was designed by Hobie Brown, the Prowler, who never used it as it was too heavy to be worn by a person of normal strength. Spider-Man, however, was easily able to wear it.
He used it with great success for several days, becoming a popular hero with the media after his debut featured him thwarting the Looter’s attempt to rob the Daily Bugle. However, during a battle, the Vulture realized that he was actually Spider-Man and exposed him. He abandoned the Hornet persona, and soon after cleared his name.
Later, the Hornet identity was given to a member of the Slingers team, Eddie McDonough – a science whiz who compensated for his palsied right arm with a knack for inventing. He was given the Hornet costume by the Black Marvel, and joined the Slingers. Eddie was able to modify the harness, making it light enough to wear. He also added additional weaponry, and made the costume more like a suit of armor (and even enabled the costume to enhance his strength). Eddie died during Enemy of the State, but death is hardly permanent in the Marvel Universe, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Hornet armor return.
Britt Reid, take note. This is what a superhero based on a Hornet should be like.
4) The Blue Beetle
There are actually three separate Blue Beetles, and while they have had varying levels of connection to an actual insect, in all three cases their name has made sense. The original Blue Beetle, who had the least resemblance to the bug, gained his powers from a mystical blue scarab beetle. The second Blue Beetle, who was never able to make the scarab work for him, at least took the concept farther – both in terms of his costume and with the gadgets, flying around in a giant blue bug.
But really, this is focused on the current Blue Beetle, Jaime Reyes. In his hands, the Blue Beetle scarab becomes a complete suit of battle armor, and while it is alien in origin, it is decidedly insectoid in appearance.
Jaime has been embraced by modern media to a degree that we can only hope Miles Morales will be, and has appeared in numerous TV shows based on DC Comics, and has had several different action figures.
3) The Tick
With his mighty battle cry of “Spoooooon!”, the Tick is nigh-invulnerable, super strong and dumb as a bunch of rocks. Fortunately, he is also pure of heart and wants very much to be a superhero, and if he is somewhat inept at his chosen profession, fortunately so are his villains.
Now, it’s true that the Tick isn’t particularly Tick-like. He doesn’t drink blood. And while he jumps fairly far, that seems to be a common stunt for super strong heroes. But the Tick did manage to hold his own Saturday morning cartoon for years, a remarkable feat for a somewhat dark comic from an independent publisher. His live-action incarnation didn’t fare as well, but the Tick remains one of the best known superheroes outside of the Big Two publishers.
And his adventures are just plain fun.
Henry Pym has had more identities than you can shake a stick at, and those identities have – without exception – each also been used by at least one other hero or villain (or in some cases, both). But while size-changing is consistently one of his schticks, his interest in bugs has always been there as well. His very first identity, Ant-Man, owed as much to his cybernetic helmet which let him communicate with (and control) ants as it did to his ability to shrink down to bug size. When he first reversed his formula and gained growing powers, his name was even punned as Gi-Ant Man, and the original version of the Giant Man costume even had antennae.
Pym, after going from one giant-based identity to another, eventually adopted the name of Yellowjacket, and he is possibly best known for this identity. And why not? As Yellowjacket, he would frequently keep his growth-based abilities (a schtick he never did dressed as Ant-Man), he had given himself the ability to fly and project energy blasts, and frankly, it’s just a cool looking costume.
Pym is currently back to being Giant-Man, but we all know it’s only a matter of time before he reclaims either the Yellowjacket or Ant-Man name. With Scott Lang dead, and O’Grady such a disgrace as Ant-Man, I’m honestly surprised that he hasn’t gone back to that identity yet. But, then again, this is also a man who for a short time, took on the name of his wife. Which leads us to…
1) The Wasp
The second person to use Pym particles to shrink or grow, the first one to gain other powers associated with the insect-theme, and arguably the best known bug-based hero outside of Spidey himself, Janet Van Dyne has been the Wasp for decades. As the Wasp, Janet has transformed from a flighty heiress into a very competent leader, a brave heroine, and has even served as leader of the Avengers on more than one occasion.
More so than any of the other heroes on this list, the Wasp really takes on many of the aspects of the insect that provides her codename. Janet can shrink down to wasp size, she flies by means of insectoid wings that grow from her shoulderblades, and her bioelectric stingers are the closest thing to stinging like a wasp that wouldn’t be both gross and a probable violation of the Comics Code.
Beyond that, the Wasp has had countless costumes throughout the years, but not a single one of them has obscured her identity. No matter the costume, one look at her and you know you are looking at Janet Van Dyne. And while she may take her heroic inspiration from a rather disgusting bug, she’s always easy on the eyes.
Which superheroes bug you the most? Sound off in the comments!