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I Love Ya But You’re Strange – The Sensational Character Find of 1993, the Battling Bantam!

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Every week, I will spotlight strange but ultimately endearing comic stories (basically, we’re talking lots and lots of Silver Age comic books). Here is the archive of all the installments of this feature. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have a suggestion for a future installment!

Today we look at the introduction of the Battling Bantam in Captain America’s 1993 Annual, part of Marvel’s Annual theme that year, which was to introduce a new character in each annual.

Written by Mark Gruenwald and David Wohl with art by MC Wyman and Charles Barnett, the story opens in Puerto Rico with a young bantamweight boxer (bantamweight boxers all weigh between 115 and 118 pounds) named Roberto who is given enhancements to help him box better. He doesn’t know that the enhancements gave him superpowers. He discovers this fact in his first fight…

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Roberto quits, but they end up using another enhanced fighter to almost kill another boxer friend of Roberto’s. When he goes to challenge them over it, they try to kill him…

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His powers helped him survive the attack and he decides to become a superhero…

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They then kill his friend to mess with him and he goes nuts…

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Cap had been undercover as a boxer to investigate stuff and he gets involved and Bantam more than holds his own against Cap…

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Eventually, they get justice for Bantam’s friend…

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The back-up story by Barry Dutter and Grant Miehm has Bantam try to teach a street gang the error of their ways…

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I love that the dude actually says “Ay Carumba!”

So this is how we met the legendary Battling Bantam!

56 Comments

“Criminals, by nature, are a cowardly and superstitious lot. To instill fear into their hearts, I became… a chicken!”

I knew a guy that was somewhat afraid of chickens….

What caught my eye here was how much like Kirby and Buscema the fight scenes were. In fact all the Wyman stuff looks better than expected.

In spite of the ridiculous character, you have to admit Wyman’s art is really really good and Gruenwald, as ever, delivered a solid story. If only Bantam didn’t read like a bet gone horribly wrong.

I don’t know what’s funnier, the “I shall become… a chicken!” panel, or the fact that Bantam’s costume doesn’t actually hide his face.

Oh, also:

“He’s a chicken, I tell ya, a giant chicken!”

I have a real soft spot for this one: this is one of the first comics I read, after X-Men number one and a few rather creepy Wolverine issues (for an 11 year old, anyway). I rather liked the character, although even I thought a chicken was a strange choice. Kind of sad he got killed off in Front Line. Was it good? Probably not. But he was one of my first super-heroes and he means a lot to me.

Ethan Shuster

May 13, 2013 at 5:25 am

Yes, a boxer looks toughest when wearing sparring headgear.

Chickens can be really mean. I wouldn’t cross one.

And I just remembered that, yep, Bantam was killed in Civil War: Frontline…by a guy named “Thunderclap.”

I’d like to believe that there’s no character that can’t be revamped into something more interesting. (Look how popular Squirrel Girl turned out.) Maybe one of these days, Marvel should have a contest among its top writers to see who can make the most successful revamp of one of the 1993 annual characters.

The boxing gloves Bantam wears as part of his costume look more like oven mitts than anything else.

batam love the idea marvel was trying to add to their universe but that costume of his does not do the character well. in fact batam is proably still stuck in limbo

“in fact batam is proably still stuck in limbo”

As mentioned twice above, he is dead (for now).

I love how in the back-up, even though ALL THE DIALOGUE is in Spanish, it’s still in (Including “Ay caramba,” which leads me to think that the bad guy actually said “Goodness gracious” and it got double-translated by mistake. As the French say, that’s life.)

“As mentioned twice above, he is dead (for now).”

If comic fandom has taught us nothing else, it’s that death is only permanent for Ben Parker.

Rollo Tomassi

May 13, 2013 at 7:58 am

I love how Captain America is in Miami investigating alleged illegal ‘roiding in the boxing circuit. I wanna see the scene that prompted his decision to go check it out.

Cap’s reading the paper, sipping his coffee at Avengers Mansion and suddenly spits it out. He rereads the article he just read. “What??! There might be cheating going on in the pro boxing scene? In Miami!? THIS. WILL. NOT. STAND!!! This is a job for…Captain America!!!”

I also laughed that the badguy didn’t recognize Bantam even though his face is completely uncovered. “Who are you?!?”

I have a soft spot for this one. A great ridiculous character. (I’d give him a sidekick called Featherweight. Maybe Flyweight. But feather has the bird theme.)

I want to see a crossover with Poyo from “Chew”

It’s so ridiculous that Marvel was okay letting the books go out with the characters looking like this!!

For some reason, they could never get the skin tones right on characters that weren’t white or black. Cap’s got a relatively realistic skin tone here. And the black EMT guy looks normal too. But all of the Latino characters are this weird gray-brown, leaning really heavily to the gray side. I just can’t believe Marvel was okay with this!

The problem also carried over to Native American characters, who would be really red. And often with Asian characters too, who would end up being oddly yellow.

I mean, this is 1993… not 1963, with the horrible racist villains running through the books. If Marvel’s editors had enough forethought to eschew the stereotyped villains, why couldn’t they sit down and figure out some skin tones that didn’t make the characters looks like hideous caricatures? I know the color palette was limited, but c’mon!!

I’d love to hear what Latino and Asian Marvel staffers from the early 90s thought about this.

Oops, I accidentally made the words “foreign language brackets” invisible (I guess the commenting system thought they were nonsense Javascript).

I seem to recall that there was supposed to be a character named “Bantam” launching during the Evolutionary War series of annuals (which gave us Speedball, Poison and some others) that never appeared. I just assumed this was the repurposing of that character. Does anyone know if this was the case?

James Fry III has said that if Slapstick had continued, he’d have done a story revealing that Marvel’s two chicken-costumed supervillans, the Black Talon* and Gamecock**, were rival and brothers. Smneone mentioned Bantam to him once in an interview, and he leapt on the idea of reviving the character for the All-Chicken Extravaganza as well.

* Despite being a voodoo priest (houngan) dressed as a fowl, he Black Talon managed to have no fewer than three incarnations. The first was a one-shot enemy of Brother Voodoo killed off in his debut story, the second a minor 1970s and 1980s Avengers villain later mocked mercilessly in a memorable issue of Joe Kelly’s Deadpool, and the third was a deliberately comedic villain who switched the chicken theme for a duck motif and clashed with Howard in the latter’s black-and-white magazine.

** Gamecock was one of Steve Englehart’s more…problematic additions to the Marvel Universe, a Harlem gangster with metal talons on his boots who drew inspiration from the sport of cockfighting. He springs from the same misguided impulse that gave us Luke Cage’s enemy Black Mariah, a female crime boss who anticipates nothing so much as Big Momma’s House, and “Snap” Wilson, the Falcon’s unwanted new backstory. Sadly, after a brief cameo in an issue of Gruenwald’s Captain America — no, not in the Bantam comic — Gamecock was killed off in Frank Tieri’s “Bloodsport” arc in Wolverine. Perhaps his “brother” the Black Talon could revive him as a zombie? We need a zombie fighting chicken supervillain!

Nick, we’re still having trouble getting past our racial difficulties. Thinking that shoulda been solved twenty years ago is…optimistic at best. Just be glad we can at least identify the problem.

I learned from comics that Latinos have gray skin. That’s why it’s so weird that I’ve lived in California all my life and apparently haven’t met any Latinos yet.

Not to always resort to Gimmick or Good thinking, but if memory serves, wasn’t this comic polybagged and ballyhooed because of this new character?

“And I just remembered that, yep, Bantam was killed in Civil War: Frontline…by a guy named “Thunderclap”
Wow. He was killed by a guy whose name sounds like a STD.

This is one of those Marvel annuals from that year that I specifically remember flipping through at the grocery store while my mom was shopping, and laughing my ass off at it. Even at 13, I just couldn’t take him seriously. Thing is, his origin and all isn’t really bad; the character could have worked with a better costume design. I always enjoy seeing obscure, sillier-than-usual characters likethis dusted off and handled in a way that makes them work. Even though Bantam is currently dead, maybe we’ll see someone have another go at him sometime.
And just remember, as ridiculous as this character seems, this annual no doubt sold better than any comic being published today. Such was the comic market in 1993.

While Gruenwald certainly did have his strong suits as a writer and editor, his penchant for animal-themed characters was not one of them. I don’t know how he (or anyone) could look at a chicken and think “that’s a good start for a superhero!” The fact that Roberto drew his heroic identity from the first thing he saw makes it all the more ridiculous, as though he had no critical thinking skills. (“I need a costumed identity… I need some inspiration, though… hmm, the only thing out here is a chicken…. I could wait until I find something better…. No, this chicken must have been a sign from God!”) Add in at least half of the Serpent Society, the Armadillo and probably some others I’m forgetting, and you clearly have a man whose sense of fun was too deeply rooted in mid-60s DC titles.

LouReedRichards

May 13, 2013 at 2:43 pm

@Kdu2814:

Yeah I was surprised at how decent the art was too. It was far better than the art I conjure in my mind when I hear the term “1993 Marvel Annual”.

LouReedRichards

May 13, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Aww don’t go hating on the Serpent Society. Yeah there were some lame ones for sure , but some cool character designs as well.

Cottonmouth’s from Mobile! You have no idea how exciting it was to read that in the Marvel Handbook.

We Alabamians we have precious few characters from here, so we’re happy to claim even a 3rd rate supervillain as one of our own.

Gotta say, after 50 years of comics, he doesn’t seem that strange. Although yes, a bantam boxer wearing boxing gloves and showing his face to guys who know him, not the smartest move.
The Serpent Society I don’t see as a problem: Sidewinder’s goal was recruiting a team he could hire out, so a large stable of specialists isn’t a bad idea (I generally liked the idea of a unionized villain team).

Not to belabor the obvious, but the parallel of the “I will become…a chicken” scsne is totally intentional.

After all, Bantam is an anagram for Batman.

I think the Serpent Society is actually pretty cool, by and large. Sure, they’re not all winners, but a lot of them are great. And even some of the ones who didn’t seem promising at first actually made something of themselves, like Diamondback.

It would be hard enough for Bantam to keep a secret identity seeing how he was supposed to be dead. But then he goes and chooses a costume and name that all but scream that he used to be a bantam class boxer _and_ fail to hide his face, too.

I can only assume he gave up on any ideas about keeping a secret identity.

“You wear a disguise to look like human guys/But you’re not a man. You’re a chicken, Boo.”

I liked this character better when DC did him 70 years ago as Wildcat. The most ridiculous thing about this costume is the boxing gloves. Did he have to ask onlookers to turn doorknobs for him? Hope he never has to push a button in an elevator. And a cell phone? Forget about it.

I want to join those who have already gone on record in saying that the Serpent Society were awesome.

I love how Captain America is in Miami investigating alleged illegal ‘roiding in the boxing circuit. I wanna see the scene that prompted his decision to go check it out.

Because Captain America, of all people, should be the one who takes a stand against steroid use.

Gruenwald had the same problem, apparently: He had a plotline in which the super-soldier serum wears off, so Cap is now steroid free (I think Brain covered that in one of his past columns). And the idea of super-humans moving into sports was also something he tackled in multiple issues.

He’s just lucky it was a chicken — the first animal he saw at that stream could have been a skunk, rat, possum or raccoon! Wait a second, pretty much ANY of those would have been better than a chicken. Oh well.

I just hope that when Bantam was killed off in Frontline, it was by falling into a vat of hot cooking oil with seven savory herbs and spices! “I will become — an entree!!”

Grant Morrison had an issue of Batman where we see Alfred daydreaming about all the animals Batman might have accidentally been inspired by. Very funny stuff.

That was a great issue, though that kinda goes without saying. His Mothman costume actually looked pretty badass! Killer Moth’s got no excuse.

Know one will know its me.

Just caught that.

I bought the original, back in the day. If anyone wants to pay me huge bucks for it, I have to admit it’s out of its polybag.

I bought it based on the merits of the 92 annual, which was actually pretty good. A good introduction to Eternals/actual mythical character Gilgamesh, a pretty good take on the construction of Cap’s shield….but I digress.

I think Cap was following the ‘roid use on the boxing circuit because of a previous Cap storyline where he was investigating roid/super powers abuse in the wresting circuit in the regular storyline at the time. Like fraser said, Gruenwald tried to address the whole ‘super soldier-serum/steroids’ analogy. I think most people weren’t terribly happy with how he did it, long term, but it was at least a start at a discussion.

I would say that in sports and in comics, its actually a debate worth having- why are steroids bad, but super soldier serum/tommy john surgery/cortisone shots are good. Also, why are there sports in the Marvel Universe at all, what with half the athletes being potentially mutants. But anyway.

But with a nod to Andrew Weiss and Gru, I give credit to the Battling Bantam- he might not have been a great character, but at the time, I liked him. He could have been somebody’s favorite.

Brian, they also did that as a feature back in the 1970s in one of the 100 page spectaculars–Batman becomes the Owl, the Stingray the Shooting Star (“Criminals are a cowardly superstitious lot—so I must become a symbol of superstition, of good luck to the law!”) and a few others.

I imagine they can gene-test for mutations as if they were doping.

Brian, they also did that as a feature back in the 1970s in one of the 100 page spectaculars–Batman becomes the Owl, the Stingray the Shooting Star (“Criminals are a cowardly superstitious lot—so I must become a symbol of superstition, of good luck to the law!”) and a few others.

Shooting Star, I love it!

fraser- the analogies are all there to be looked at. There is a list of banned substances in most modern sports- would there be a list of banned super hero creation devices- ? “You can be bitten by a radioactive animal that is larger than a cow, but not smaller….’ There is currently controversy over transgendered athletes- would there be controversy over prohibiting mutants from athletics?

You have to give Gru credit for seeing the potential, I would say.

Can Casey Martin golf with a golf cart? Can Oscar Pistorius run with prosthetic legs? Can Mac Gargan wrestle with his full bionic scorpion costume?

It’s fun.

” We need a zombie fighting chicken supervillain!”

I would happily purchase any comic with this character.

Mike Loughlin

May 14, 2013 at 6:47 am

The panel that has Cap holding Battling Bantum up by his face is hilarious, too. I love the idea that BB is going into some sort of bezerker rage. “Grrrrrrbbbuk buk buk B-KAW!!!!”

A chicken-themed superhero… Now how could that not catch on?

Honestly, I always thought he was named Battling Bantom because they didn’t think they could get away with calling him “The Fighting Cock!”

“I love how Captain America is in Miami investigating alleged illegal ‘roiding in the boxing circuit. I wanna see the scene that prompted his decision to go check it out.”

Let’s face it, guys… we all know why Captain America really went to Miami… he must’ve been like “oh, Avengers, yes, I just wanted to notify you that I’ll be flying down to Miami to investigate steroid abuse in… yes, I know, it’s probably really nice down there this time of year… anyway, as I was saying… no, I didn’t… really? I had no idea it’s spring break already. Well, I won’t have any time to lounge around on the beach with drunken co-eds, for I am investigating… what was it again?”

As Peter Griffin from FAMILY GUY will tell you, giant chickens are powerful fighters.

@ Eric Henry “..I shall become a chicken” @Black Cesar “VD” both are actual laugh out loud hilarious. @Adam I love the idea of creators having an issue/annual where they take lame characters and try and make them cool. @Deron I like the Armadillo. (The Serpent Society is a given). @Al I’m not sure he was worried about cell phones in 1993…

Guy gets shot up and dropped in a swamp by the minions of a greedy guy with a pharmacology scheme…and BATMAN is the DC character he decides to emulate?! Solomon Grundy and Alec Holland are facepalming in stereo.

Two words on Bantam’s death in CW:FL – Extra-crispy.

I’m pretty sure it was Tom DeFalco who conceived of the character, not Mark Gruenwald.

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