Evil-doers, prepare to meet thy nemesis: Captain Nice is back

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The Independent Online

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a saviour of mankind rushing through the air at the speed of light? No, it's Captain Nice, an entirely different kind of superhero. He lives with his mum, doesn't like flying, and his powers are, well, a bit less than overwhelming.

For years, he and the other wallflowers of the superhero world have been lurking in the shadows, known only to the most avid readers of comic books. But now - with one bound volume, so to speak - a new book is about to unleash them on an unsuspecting world. Wrong-doers everywhere need not be unduly afraid.

The Encyclopedia of Comic-Book Icons aims to be a definitive A to Z of superheroes, and, among the high-octane do-gooders, author Gina Misiroglu has unearthed some of the most pathetic crusaders ever to don a cape and leap across the page in primary colours.

Men, for instance, like the Sixties superhero Invisible Dick. Readers of Britain's Sparky Comics may have regarded him as a man not to be trifled with, but, to modern minds, his powers - a torch that made things disappear - come as something of a let-down. Also from the same era was Matter-Eater Lad, a super-glutton with the power to eat large amounts of anything. Thus did he dispose of any obstacle thrown in his path in the pages of DC's Adventure Comics.

Ms Misiroglu worked for two years compiling the 800-page book, which is published by Invisible Ink Press, is available on Amazon and will hit UK bookstores soon. She is at pains to point out that these ridiculous heroes are in the minority: "Even the silliest characters contribute something to the superhero universe. Comic book creators have always tried wacky ideas to reach new audiences."

Hence, presumably, The Sandman, a crime-fighter from the Thirties who could send people - possibly even readers - to sleep. And if you think he sounds a few bits of kryptonite short of the full super-powered hero, consider some of his rivals: Microwave Man, The Flaming Carrot, Fatman the Human Flying Saucer and Plastic Man.

Appropriately, given the gender of the author, not all the more recherché super-heroes are men. Dazzler, from the Seventies, used the dance floor to combat evil, transforming sound into light bursts and laser blasts. She seems now like a risible bid to cash in on the disco craze, but she was, in fact, a revolution in comic book publishing. Falling sales led Marvel Comics to distribute her comic directly to independent comic shops, rather than through newsstands. The first issue sold half a million copies and there are now 3,000 independent comic shops in America.

But perhaps Captain Nice, star of his own TV series in the Sixties, is the Napoleon of unusual crime-fighting. Bespectacled and physically weak, he discovered a liquid that gave him flying powers. One of the few mature superheroes still to live with his parents, he wore a costume made by his mum - a pygmy among superheroes, but a giant among New Men.