Challengers of the Unknown
(Jack Kirby era, part #2)
This here is the second half of the Jack Kirby’s Challengers of the Unknown team profile.
So if you haven’t read the first half, immediately use your electronic molecular transjectors to teleport there, chums !
The electronic transportation ray affair !
The government then summoned the Challengers to arrest seemingly unstoppable thieves. These worked for rogue scientist Olan Tagorian, who had also kidnapped honorary Chall June Robbins.
Using his teleportation tech, Tagorian kidnapped the rest of the Challengers. He then beamed in random creatures from other dimensionsOther realms of existence that are not our universe.
But these easily escaped from his enclosure. The panicking Tagorian blindly teleported the creatures out.
The Challengers teleported after each of the involuntary invaders :
- A yellow thingie that absorbed immense quantities of electricity, and turned it into supersonic waves. It was captured using a box made of rock-like vibration-proof material.
- A huge, orange subterranean thingie that ate rocks at an alarming rate. It was captured using extremely bright light.
Both were sent back to their home dimension, and Tagorian and his men were arrested.
Tagorian’s huge lab was mostly wrecked. However, this installation hidden at the heart of a mountain (using teleportation beams for excavation) would not be forgotten.
The human pets affair !
Whilst investigating an alien flying sphere, the Challs were abruptly captured. They ended up in the room of a gigantic alien child. The youth thought they were tiny pets, like trained fleas.
Realising that the alien’s parents would object to his capturing minuscule aliens, the Challs escaped from their cage. However, this also freed a sort of giant space cat who started hunting them. In the bedlam, Ace used a sort of toy popgun to hit a button that called the parents.
The Challengers’ guess was correct. The parents scolded their boy, and returned the Humans to Earth.
The traitor Challenger affair !
In the Australian bush, the Challengers tried to stop a giant, weird monster.
Meanwhile, June’s computers asserted that they couldn’t possibly win this fight. Knowing that they would refuse to back down, she flew in and sabotaged their efforts. By preventing a fight with the monster, she would save their lives.
Prof eventually deduced that the invincible monster was atomically powered. They lured it into chasing their helicopter for a while, until the night fell. No longer able to feed off the sun’s atomic reactions, the monster died.
June’s efforts had thus been successful. Without her sabotages delaying the attack, the Challs would have engaged the monster too early for Prof’s night-time plan to work.
The monster imaginator affair !
The Challengers rushed to Dr. Hascomb’s lab, on a Caribbean island. They had learned that criminal maniac Roc was after the scientist.
But they were too late. From Hascomb’s devices, Roc had gained the power to materialise whatever he imagined. Such as, say, GIANT MONSTERS !
Roc dispersed the Challs with a 12-metres tall gorilla. As he left he then imagined a missile that destroyed the lab.
But the Challs had tricked the gorilla into knocking itself out, and thus had time to evacuate Hascomb and his gear.
After Hascomb endowed Ace with the same powers as Roc, the Challengers went after the madman. Ace and Roc had a titanic duel using imaginary creatures, machines and perils. Eventually, Roc was taken down, and Ace was depowered by Hascomb.
Another best-selling 1957 record to evoke the era, let’s see… Yeah, Jimmy Dorsey (and his orchestra, of course). It’s a good fit.
During the Middle Ages, one Kregon the Sorcerer had built a magic mirror. This was based on the mystical research of a lost civilisation – perhaps the same one as during the ancient vials affair.
The sorcerous mirror affair !
However, Hillary Mycroft stole Kregon’s secret scrolls shortly after they were found by a museum. This diminutive and evil criminal used the scrying mirror to locate further ancient secrets.
When the Challs found him in his hideout, Mycroft cut them off with a secret sliding wall.
The relics located by the mirror were in remote locations. Nevertheless, the Challengers reached these spots and clashed with Mycroft’s goons. In so doing, our stalwart heroes realised that the ancient magic on these sites was assisting them.
Nevertheless, Mycroft ended up assembling the full genie-summoning device.
However, the criminal just vanished. Red had palmed one of the magic rods that were part of the device, and it thus misfired.
The invincible Challenger affair !
A government lab analysed an alien canister found within a meteor. The fluid therein seemed to make living organisms immune to even the harshest heat, cold or pressure.
The Challengers insisted upon volunteering for human testing, as this could win the space race. It was Rocky who drew the “winning” straw.
When Rocky came back from a short foray in orbit, he had been altered. He had many super-powers and acted paranoid, convinced that everyone was after him.
Worse, he ran into criminals hiding in the woods, who gave him food and coffee to convince him they were his friends.
As the other four hoped, Rocky eventually recognised his fellow Challs.
- The criminals were arrested.
- Rocky lost his powers and regained his mind.
- The chemical was buried since it just wasn’t compatible with Earth organisms.
The time wizard affair !
Small gangs of Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Greeks stole supplies such as telescopes and airplanes. One was captured, and the Challengers took him to what the time-displaced man called the “Island of the Wizard”.
There, they discovered that one Darius Tiko had developed a functioning time machine. However, he had been recklessly messing with the past. When the Challs tried to stop him, he fled there.
Using a secondary time machine, the Challengers gave chase.
After some misadventures in Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece, the Challs deduced Tiko’s plan. He was offering technological gifts to ancient sages who allegedly could predict the future. From there, the Challengers intuited that Tiko would deal with Nostradamus.
This was correct. Tiko used Nostradamus’ techniques to allow his time machine to enter the future.
The time wizard affair ! (part 2)
The Challs caught Tiko in the year 3,000. He had been stealing super-tech gadgets, which he intended to use to rule the past. However, both he and the Challengers were arrested by the United Earth Police.
A computer judge rendered a not-guilty verdict, as the XXth century men were too primitive to know better. The Challs and Tiko were simply ordered to return to their time, and Tiko’s time machines were then destroyed.
(It was later retconnedMaking changes to a character or story after the fact that the Challs briefly pursued Tiko in 1994 Metropolis, teaming up with Superman (Clark Kent). See Darius Tiko’s profile for more.)
Darius Tiko was judged in 1959 as well. But his only actual crimes had been stealing an old plane and a telescope to bribe ancient wise men.
The star stone affair !
In (presumably) Mexico, Prof. Brandon and Dr. Robbins found a mystical relic carved from a meteorite fragment.
It came with ancient (presumably Nahua) documentation about three gemstones. Each would grant great power for a time, and there was a fourth that would make these powers permanent.
Inevitably, party member Vreedl started stealing the stones on his own. The Challengers chased him across the planet, but he forced them back with fire powers, then gliding powers, then aquatic powers.
Though each set of powers faded in turn, Vreedl held on just long enough to always get the next gem in time.
The full set gave him Superman-like powers. However, Ace talked Vreedl into destroying the stones so nobody else would use them to gain similar powers. As hoped, this depowered Vreedl.
The space circus affair !
A fake maritime emergency lured the Challs into a trap. They were thus captured by a space circus, which pitched them into deadly perils as an act.
However, the Challengers organised the captured alien performers, and they all made a breakout.
The Challs hung behind to allow everyone else to escape, and were cornered. But as they found refuge on a random asteroid, they discovered that it endowed them with temporary super-strength.
The Challs exposed the space circus as criminals, and other aliens arrested them.
The flaxen witch affair !
A bad storm forced June to crash her plane onto a deserted island. Of course, there was a hidden civilisation there.
However, she found a magic lamp in a cave before making contact. It possessed her, and endowed her with the magical power of an ancient sorceress.
(The outfit Dr. Robbins then gets to wear is reminiscent of the 1960s Scarlet Witch costume. But it’s not *that* close. It’s also comparable to other Kirbyesque ensembles such as Kala of Subterranea’s)
Furthermore, an American criminal named Charles Agar had preceded Dr. Robbins. He had become a sort of court wizard. But with June possessed, he intended to manipulate her into giving him great wealth and power.
The Challs derailed his plan when the time came to re-expose June to the lamp’s fumes. They fled with her, and prevented a chase by faking magic powers for Dr. Robbins.
The team then flew away and threw the cursed lamp into the ocean. Good, good.
The Druid Island affair !
A friend of the Challengers found a crashed spaceship on Druid Island. It had been a sort of zoo, and three gigantic alien animals had escaped. Though they were just beasts, their size and powers made it too dangerous for them to remain on Earth.
While it was difficult, the Challs captured all three giant beasts.
At this point, two aliens arrived from Pluto. They had been looking for the crashed ship. After thanking the Challengers they got the wrecked craft — and its zoological cargo — off Earth.
The island of no return affair !
One Anton Zammer found the secret island lab of the late Dr. Macon. He determined how Macon’s genius inventions worked, and used them for crimes.
This included molecular transformers, disintegrators, shrinkifiers, cold rays, a phasingBeing immaterial and able to walk through walls, like a ghost suit, etc..
Zammer captured the Challs, and shrunk them. However June, fed up with not being allowed on adventures, had shadowed the team. She freed them, and Zammer’s panicking pet parrot provided the Challengers with impromptu transportation.
Zammer was defeated after Prof correctly deduced that Macon’s one unused invention would be a safety measure destroying all the other devices.
The Drabny affair !
June’s friend Marie inherited a castle in scenic Mordania. It came with a strange scroll, which the Challs deciphered.
Marie and June suspected that the castle held a dark secret. A sinister-looking man named Drabny had been prowling around in recent weeks.
(Mordania could be trivially retconnedMaking changes to a character or story after the fact as having been Markovia. Nobody cares, they look awfully similar, and it’s Ruritania anyway. For more about Markovia, see the “Carmen Sandiego, you’re our only hope” section in the Baron Bedlam character profile.)
The Drabny affair ! (part 2)
As Drabny knew, ancient alchemical treasures (but not Princess Peach) were hidden in the castle. The Challs stumbled upon the first – a potion of youth that accidentally turned Ace and Rocky into teenagers.
Drabny rushed in whilst everybody was confused and stole the second and third artefacts.
- A helmet endowing the wearer with mental powers.
- Goggles that allowed the wearer to see and recreate technology from the future.
Drabny de-aged his body, then took over Mordania. When UN troops came to stop his plans of world conquest, Drabny’s fleet of “star cars” easily dispersed them.
Though they had been briefly captured, the Challs came up with a plan. They sneaked onto Drabny’s super-car and doused him with the rest of the youth potion. As Drabny temporarily reverted to being a child, his head became too small to wear the super-helmet.
He was thus captured and his gear reportedly destroyed.
The robot planet affair !
A humanoid alien named Juhl then came to request help.
An Earth rocket had exploded near his homeworld, and the radiation had turned his people’s many robots against them. The radiation was also toxic to Juhl’s people – but didn’t weaken Earthlings.
After they took down a robot pursuer, Juhl and the Challs travelled to the homeworld. Kra, king of the robots, learned of this and launched punitive raids against the population. Meanwhile, the Challs planned with the anti-robots resistance.
The aliens no longer needed aircrafts, but Ace and Rocky stole an antique alien helicopter from a museum. Meanwhile, Prof and Red attacked Kra, jamming his joints with sand.
Piloting Kra from the inside, Prof had all robots gather on a plaza, where Ace’s helicopter sprayed them with an antidote to the radiation.
Prof is once misidentified as “Professor Harrison”. And June as “Dr. Walker”.
(A lettering slip also has Prof as “Professor Hale”, which implies the existence of a Professor Hearty.)
Dr. Robbins also originally appears with brown hair, before consistently becoming a blonde. Witchery !
The male Challs are all more or less a head taller than most 1959 men. They presumably range from 5’11” (1.80m) to 6’1″ (1.85m), with June being about 5’3″ (1.60m).
When in the past, the Challengers had no problem speaking the local languages.
It’s a common genre convention of the times, so let’s handwave that as a property of the time machine. Since the travellers from the past also could speak modern English.
Still, I’ve added an Expertise in Linguistics to Prof’s stats. It’s not *clearly* demonstrated, but there are implications he knows this.
As you can see from the stories’ summary, “ancient artefacts hidden by a lost magical civilisation, preferably in sets of four” is the go-to formula.
It’s not stated that it’s the same culture every time, but that would be the OcccamA logic rule about favouring the explanation involving the fewest entities-legal interpretation.
This would work well with the Grant Morrison Camelot cycles in the DC Universe. Say, one specific iteration realised that the Harrowing was coming, and had a procedure to hide special resources in sets of four in the hope that they’d survive to use them.
See the germane Shining Knight character profile for more about these cycles.
DC Heroes RPG
Tell me more about the game stats
“Ace” Morgan (1957/59)
|Dex: 04||Str: 03||Bod: 04|
|Int: 06||Wil: 05||Min: 06|
|Inf: 05||Aur: 04||Spi: 06|
|Init: 015||HP: 065|
Bonuses and Limitations:
- Hypnosis is a Skilled Power, and a Serious Marginal Power.
- Hypnosis has no Range, and requires the target to be attentively looking at Ace’s eyes and listening to his voice.
Animals handling (Horses): 04, Charisma (Persuasion): 05, Gadgetry: 04, Military science (Cartography): 05, Thief (Stealth): 03, Vehicles (Air): 07, Vehicles (Land, Space): 05, Weaponry (Infantry weapons): 05, Weaponry (Vehicular weapons): 06
Familiarity (Military equipment and protocols, Ancient Greek mythology, Scuba diving, Alien spaceship controls, Charioteering), Scholar (Aeronautical engineering).
US Air Force (Low).
Prof. Haley (1957/59)
|Dex: 04||Str: 02||Bod: 04|
|Int: 06||Wil: 08||Min: 06|
|Inf: 04||Aur: 04||Spi: 06|
|Init: 014||HP: 060|
Animals handling (Horses): 04, Gadgetry: 08, Military science (Demolitions): 05, Scientist: 11, Thief (Stealth): 04, Weaponry (Firearms): 04
Expertise (Linguistics), Familiarity (Ancient Greece), Language (Ancient Greek), Scholar (Undersea exploration).
US universities (Low).
Red Ryan (1957/59)
|Dex: 04||Str: 03||Bod: 05|
|Int: 06||Wil: 05||Min: 06|
|Inf: 05||Aur: 04||Spi: 06|
|Init: 015||HP: 060|
Acrobatics (Climbing): 07, Acrobatics (Athletics): 06, Animals handling (Horses): 04, Gadgetry: 03, Thief (Stealth): 03, Vehicles (Land): 04, Weaponry (Infantry weapons): 05
Familiarity (Ancient Greek mythology, Equestrian vaulting, Circus lore, Scuba diving).
Rocky Davis (1957/59)
|Dex: 05||Str: 04||Bod: 05|
|Int: 06||Wil: 04||Min: 06|
|Inf: 05||Aur: 04||Spi: 06|
|Init: 015||HP: 060|
Acrobatics: 05, Animals handling (Horses): 04, Gadgetry: 03, Martial artist (incl. Techniques): 06, Military science (incl. Survival): 05, Thief (Stealth): 03, Vehicles (Land): 04, Weaponry (Infantry weapons): 05
Familiarity (Military equipment and protocols, Ancient Greek mythology, Firefighting, Scuba diving)
Public ID, MIA toward Curiosity.
Dr. June Robbins (1957/59)
|Dex: 02||Str: 02||Bod: 03|
|Int: 06||Wil: 08||Min: 05|
|Inf: 04||Aur: 04||Spi: 06|
|Init: 012||HP: 050|
Artist (Actress): 02, Gadgetry: 04, Scientist: 09, Thief (Stealth): 04, Vehicles (Air, Land): 04
Scholar (Computer science).
US computer science scene (Low).
The equipment we see the Challs deploy during these stories :
- Several WWII bazookas (stats in the heavy weapons article).
- Polaroid™ glasses (Shade: 02).
- A cargo seaplane with a door heavy machinegun, and a 500 lbs. bomb.
- M3 “Grease Gun” submachineguns (stats in the small arms part #1 article).
- Powerful demolition charges with magnetic clamps (EV 14 Combined With Bomb: 08).
- M1 Garand rifles.
- An interceptor looking like an upscaled Gloster Meteor , capable of carrying the team plus its equipment. This aircraft has an exceptionally long range, and can land both on land and on water. It is armed with free-flight rockets. It may be a prototype designed by Ace.
- Unspecified revolvers. S&W Model 19s would make sense – use magnum revolver stats from the handguns part #1 article. Sometimes they instead use Colt M1911-type semi-automatic .45 handguns, but these are less common.
- Bundles of dynamite.
- A then-recent helicopter. It *resembles* a Hugues OH-6 Cayuse , though that would be slightly anachronistic.
They also often use items such as :
- Jet fighters loaned to Ace by the US Air Force when they’re working together.
- High-end skindiving equipment for Prof (including a harpoon gun, underwater archaeology supplies, etc.).
- High-end mountaineering equipment for Red. He once used an automatic hand drill to dig handholds in an incredibly smooth mountain face.
- Rocky is sometimes seen with jungle exploration gear, including a high-calibre rifle.
The plane is the most consistent and distinctive bit. There isn’t enough material to truly stat it, but as a stab:
[STR 08 BODY 10, Flight: 09, Radar sense: 17, Swimming (surface only): 02, R#2]. A volley of rockets likely has EV 12, with four or five volleys being available.
The diving suit used by Prof against the Tyran aliens is seen for but two pages, then vanishes.
It was designed and built “almost overnight” by a global science and engineering team.
It has two propeller tubes (like small DPVs), is lightly armoured, and has detection devices that read strong brainwaves.
[/BODY/ 08, Life sense: 05, Swimming: 05, Water Freedom: 05, Acrobatics (Dodging): 05, Thief (Stealth): 05, Limitation: both Skills only work underwater.]
As usual on writeups.org, the stats are based on what the characters are seen actually doing in the actual stories.
The Challs don’t need enormous stats for their exploits. What sets them apart is their Hero Points total.
Notably, they don’t really dominate garden variety thugs in hand-to-hand combat. The Challs will eventually win if they’re not too badly outnumbered, but it won’t be a trivial victory.
However, as the stories advance they seem to become more redoubtable in a brawl… though there’s also reason to think it’s their opponents who happen to be weaker.
They’ll also perform Team Attacks whenever needed. Not just in combat – technological Tasks are also a frequent target.
It would be thematically appropriate for them to have Iron Nerves. But it’s never demonstrated in the material, and they already have beefy SPI and MIN scores.
Still, if you want to throw it in for all five, I doubt that’ll start a riot. Aesthetically, I’d favour it myself.
Source of Character: The Challengers of the Unknown by Jack Kirby collected reedition.
Writeup completed on the 22nd of September, 2019.