|Challengers of the Unknown|
Challengers of the Unknown #1 (1958).
Cover art by Jack Kirby.
|First appearance||Showcase #6 (February 1957)|
|Created by||Jack Kirby (possibly with Joe Simon or Dave Wood)|
|Member(s)||Kyle "Ace" Morgan|
Matthew "Red" Ryan
Leslie "Rocky" Davis
Walter Mark "Prof" Haley
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.
The characters' provenance is uncertain. Various sources credit the group as the sole creation of artist and storyteller Jack Kirby, a co-creation with writer Dave Wood or a co-creation with Kirby's former partner Joe Simon. Following the end of the Challengers comic, DC has revived the characters in different incarnations over the years.
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.
The series continued in the bimonthly Showcase for three more appearances (#7, 11–12, April 1957, December 1957 – February 1958) then moved to its own title, starting with issue #1 (May 1958). Kirby moved on after issue #8 (July 1959), with Bob Brown succeeding him as artist. 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).
In a short-lived 1976–77 revival, the Challengers were again a four-man, one-woman team 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 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.
Fictional group history
The roster included Ace Morgan, Prof Haley, Rocky Davis and Red Ryan. 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.
Prepublication solicitations for various Countdown 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 in order to find Ray Palmer, who Bob claimed was essential to the survival of the universe. Eventually the earth heroes were betrayed by Bob, who sought to kill Ray Palmer, rather than protect him or acquire his aid. Palmer, Troy, Todd, and Rayner found themselves involved in a war between the Monitors and the forces of Monarch. 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.
In 2011, the DC Universe was dramatically altered, giving very different back stories to many of its heroes and villains.
The Challengers were formed for a reality television contest, when several notable people were assembled by archaeologist presenter Clay Brody for his "Challengers" program. However, Clay, the contestants, producer June, and pilots Ace and Maverick, were lost in the Himalayas when their plane crashed under mysterious circumstances. However, 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 inadvertedly 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 who's 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.
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. The mini-series was collected in trade paperback as Challengers of the Unknown: Stolen Moments, Borrowed Time.
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. 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.
When Red is killed, 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.
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. The surviving Challengers are placed on trial, but eventually freed with the testimony of Superman. They are, however, ordered to disband.
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.
"The New Challengers of the Unknown", including ghostly Prof and June, were poised to take on menaces in the dark corners of the world.
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 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. 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.
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.
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.
In the 2018 movie Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, The Challengers made a cameo, shown as being thought of being unknown, hence the name. The challengers were voiced as if they were mystery solvers from Scooby-Doo and a Whodunit combined.
The Challengers of the Unknown have faced an array of villains:
- Amenothoth – An ancient Egyptian villain.
- Brainiex – Sentient computer/spaceship, allied with Villo.
- Burt Langdon – A criminal who competed against the Challengers of the Unknown to obtain a wizard's deadly device.
- Chang – An Asian mastermind.
- Dakyab – An alien tyrant.
- Dane Cary – A criminal that was sabotaging the filming of Connie Baylor's latest movie.
- Darius Tiko – A scientist who discovers a time cube that lets him travel to the past and future.
- Dekkar – A villain who once used a machine to steal the memories of the Challengers of the Unknown.
- Dimension Man (D-Man) – A criminal scientist who had the ability to teleport and access other dimensions.
- Dr. Fenton – A scientist who once kidnapped June Robbins.
- Dr. Heathcliff Monroe – A scientist who worshipped M'nagalah.
- Dr. Heller – A Neo-Fascist who the Challengers of the Unknown encounter on a deserted island.
- Dr. Manning – A scientist who ends up turned into a giant, super-strong, rampaging caveman.
- FX-1 – A robot that goes independent and ends up going on a rampage when struck by lightning.
- Gargoyle – "Gary Doyle" is a roof-climbing villain who meets a blind girl and planned to pay for her surgery through whatever way he can.
- General Tolek – A Tyran who led his kind to evade Earth.
- Gurk – A criminal collector that once hired Multi-Man to help him find three pieces of a golden turtle statuette.
- Hillary Mycroft – A criminal who sought to reassemble a sorcerer's apparatus.
- Iron Dictator – An other-dimensional version of Adolf Hitler recruited by the Dimension Man.
- Jacquard – A criminal that once challenged the Challengers of the Unknown.
- Karnak – A criminal who used potions to create monsters.
- Korba – A "man without a country" who enslaves people on an island to build his "world."
- Krager – A criminal mastermind with a hook for a left hand.
- Kubagy – An alien criminal who came to Earth to steal its chlorine in order to power his robot.
- League of Challenger-Haters – A group of enemies that each fought the Challengers of the Unknown before joining together as this group.
- Drabny – A villain who steals inventions from the future in order to take over the present. He was later a member of the League of Challenger-Haters.
- Kra – A tyrant robot who enslaved the planet Zuna. He was later a member of the League of Challenger-Haters.
- Multi-Man – A supervillain who gains a different form every time he dies. He was later the founder of the League of Challenger-Haters.
- Multi-Woman – A giant robot created by Multi-Man. A second version of her later appeared as a member of the League of Challenger-Haters.
- Villo – The "world's vilest villain."
- Volcano Man – A lava monster. He was later a member of the League of Challenge-Haters.
- Legion of the Weird
- Malvolio – A criminal who possesses an ancient genie named Ahmed.
- Mastermind – An Earth criminal who cons Cosmo’s alien master into believing that the Challengers are controlling Cosmo’s mind and forcing him to use his powers for evil purposes.
- Morlean – A sorcerer who was the first villain the Challengers of the Unknown encountered.
- Mr. Dimension – A vagrant who stole a dimensional weapon from a timeship from the far future.
- Mr. Murlin – An alchemist that unleashed a plague that turns ordinary humans into violent zombies.
- Mr. Tic-Tac-Toe – Dr. Bradford is a criminal who uses traps with a tic-tac-toe motif.
- Neutro – Starrett is an element-transmuting villain.
- Olan Tagorian – A criminal scientist whose machine can teleport monsters from other dimensions.
- Ooze – Killer Stark was accidentally changed into the Ooze during his encounter with the Challengers of the Unknown.
- Power Man – An energy-absorbing villain.
- Raymond – A robot that was given to the Challengers of the Unknown as a gift, but had ulterior motives.
- Roc – A criminal who obtained a mind-over-matter machine.
- Roney – A criminal who obtained a stone that enables him to control two creatures.
- Seekeenakee – An incarnate stone "god" whose worshippers want to take over the world. This was actually Red Ryan's transformed appearance.
- Seth Gross – A wicked magician.
- Sir Rodford – A criminal who lives in a world within a mirage.
- Suboku – An alien who tricks the Challengers of the Unknown into doing things that would help him in his invasion.
- Tartan – An alien ringmaster who once captured the Challengers of the Unknown for his intergalactic circus.
- Torbert – A criminal who stole a "life liquid" from an ages-old pharaoh.
- Tukamenon – An ancient mummy that fought the Challengers of Evil on behalf of the Legion of the Weird.
- Ultivac – A giant computer robot that was built by an ex-Nazi scientist.
- Volcano Men – Anthropomorphic giants made of fiery lava.
- Wizard Welles – A criminal that once enlarged Rocky's cranium
- Zardok – A criminal mystic who gained mind-over-matter powers from a meteorite.
- Zarxes – A dimensional villain who plotted to conquer Earth.
- Zog – An alien criminal.
In other media
- The outfits that were worn by the Watchtower workers in Justice League Unlimited are very similar to the team's classic uniforms.
- The Challengers of the Unknown appear in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Revenge of the Reach" with Walter Mark "Prof" Haley voiced by Armin Shimerman, Matthew "Red" Ryan voiced by Ioan Gruffudd, Kyle "Ace" Morgan voiced by J.K. Simmons, and Leslie "Rocky" Davis voiced by James Arnold Taylor. All four go to Dinosaur Island to investigate a meteorite that fell there. Batman helps them fight a giant spider on Dinosaur Island. They are later attacked by a group of Starros after he leaves. In "The Siege of Starro" Pt. 1, the Challengers of the Unknown are among the superheroes that are under the control of the Starros when they helped in the Starro Invasion.
- Following their appearance in the movie, the Challengers reappear in the Teen Titans Go! episode "TV Knight 4" where they attempt to explain to the Titans what a staple remover is.
- The Challengers of the Unknown appeared in the animated film Justice League: The New Frontier. Ace Morgan (voiced by John Heard) in particular is spotlighted, acting as friend and mentor to Hal Jordan. Professor Haley is also in a cameo in the meeting of him, Agent Faraday, Ace Morgan, and Dr. Will Magnus. "Red" Ryan, Dr. June Robbins, and "Rocky" Davis are also present during the battle and in the end.
- The Challengers of the Unknown are featured in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies with their leader, presumably Ace Morgan, voiced by Dave Stone in an almost stoic manner while the other members have no dialogue. The Challengers are composed of five members with the fifth one being a woman, possibly June Robbins, and are featured as a running gag in the film. They show up to the premiere of Batman Again where the bouncer recognizes them, but not the Teen Titans who criticize the Challengers for being an obscure group. In response, Raven uses her powers to drop them into a portal of unending darkness. She uses it again to drop all the possessed heroes whom the Challengers believe are there to save them, but end up getting blasted and attacked by them. The heroes are let out, but the Challengers fail to escape the abyss. In a post-credits scene, the Challengers continue to float around with Ace postulating that they missed the whole movie, referring to the film they were attending the premiere to as well as Teen Titans Go! To the Movies.
- In 1977, author Ron Goulart penned the novel Challengers of the Unknown as part of a DC experiment in new venues. The original four and June Robbins trekked to South America to investigate Zarpa the lake monster. While on the case they encounter young men with old Nazi tattoos, ancient alien cults, a castle in the desert, a robotic dog, and a bomb in a piano crate. (Dell Books, ISBN 0-440-11337-7)
- The team is tributed in The New Pornographers' song Challengers.
Archie Comics occasionally featured a parody segment called "Explorers of the Unknown", featuring versions of their characters as an elite team of adventurers.
The 1950–60s series won the 1967 Alley Awards for Best Non-Super-Powered Group Title and Best Normal Adventure Group.
- Challengers of the Unknown Archive #1 (collects Showcase #6–7, 11–12, Challengers #1–2, 157 pages, August 2003, ISBN 1-56389-997-3)
- Challengers of the Unknown Archive #2 (collects Challengers #3–8, 168 pages, November 2004, ISBN 1-4012-0153-9)
- Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown Volume 1 (collects Showcase #6–7, 11–12, Challengers #1–17, 540 pages, September 2006, ISBN 1-4012-1087-2)
- Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown: Volume 2 (collects Challengers #18–37, 528 pages, May 2008, ISBN 1-4012-1725-7)
The Loeb–Sale mini was reprinted as a trade paperback, Challengers of the Unknown Must Die! (December 2004, ISBN 1-4012-0374-4), as was the Chaykin mini-series (March 2006, ISBN 1-4012-0941-6).
- 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.
- Challengers of the Unknown at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on April 14, 2012.
- 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"..."
- Wallace, Dan (2008), "Challengers of the Unknown", in Dougall, Alastair (ed.), The DC Comics Encyclopedia, New York: Dorling Kindersley, p. 77, ISBN 0-7566-4119-5, OCLC 213309017
- "Challengers of the Unknown = Fantastic Four". The Great American Novel.
- Showcase #6 at the Grand Comics Database.
- Showcase (DC, 1956 series) at the Grand Comics Database.
- Schelly, William (2013). American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1950s. TwoMorrows Publishing. pp. 164–165. ISBN 9781605490540.
- Challengers of the Unknown (DC, 1958 series) at the Grand Comics Database.
- Sacks, Jason; Dallas, Keith (2014). American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1970s. TwoMorrows Publishing. p. 114. ISBN 978-1605490564.
- 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.
- DC Universe Presents #6(2012)
- New Challengers #1–6 (2018)
- Challengers of the Unknown #47 (Dec. 1965–Jan. 1966).
- "Showcase" #7 (April 1957)
- Challengers of the Unknown #55 (Apr.–May 1957).
- Challengers of the Unknown vol. 2, #1 (Mar. 1991).
- Challengers of the Unknown vol. 2, #2 (Apr. 1991).
- Challengers of the Unknown vol. 2, #8 (Oct. 1991).
- Villains United: Infinite Crisis Special #1
- Infinite Crisis #7
- Challengers of the Unknown Archive #1 at DC Comics.com
- Challengers of the Unknown Archive #2 at DC Comics.com
- Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown: Volume 1 at DC Comics.com
- Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown: Volume 2 Archived February 26, 2009, at the Wayback Machine at DC Comics.com
- Challengers of the Unknown Must Die! at DC Comics.com
- Stolen Moments, Borrowed Time at DC Comics.com