Like the rest of us, super-heroes have places to go, the only difference being they absolutely need to get there or the world will be destroyed, a country taken over, or women will suffer fates worse than death. For super-heroes then, it’s far more important for them to have reliable transportation than the average citizen and luckily for us, they’ve always managed to get their hands on just the vehicles they need.
Another lucky thing is that most super-heroes seem to be independently wealthy or own high tech companies or even secret treasures so they can afford “all those wonderful toys” as one of their opponents said in the first serious attempt at depicting super-heroes on film. And not coincidentally, that first Batman movie by director Tim Burton, featured just the sort of super-hero transportation devices that concerns us on this list: an up-armored batmobile and high-tech flying batplane.
But specialized super-hero transportation didn’t start with Batman (a Batmobile of sorts made its original appearance in 1939 along with Batman himself in Detective Comics #27); they can be traced at least as far back as the pulp magazine adventures of the Shadow who often used an autogyro to get around outside the confines of New York City.
Not long after, in 1933, Doc Savage debuted in a companion magazine complete with his own “batcave” so to speak in the form of a run down seeming warehouse on New York’s waterfront that contained a fleet of transportation vehicles including an armored blimp, an autogyro, speed planes, an amphibious heavy transport plane, even a mini-submarine. The only difference from Batman was that Doc never had the ego to prefix his vehicles after himself.
And if some enterprising readers wanted to go even farther back than Doc or the Shadow, they need look no farther than any number of masked western heroes with such wonder horses as Thunder, Trigger, or Silver!
So as anyone can see, transportation, specialized or not, is a must for the well-equipped hero, super or otherwise and comic book heroes have been more energetic than any other kind to fill out that line in their resumes. Almost all of them have had some kind of transportation and although many would settle for the latest automobile to get around, others couldn’t seem to do without all the bells and whistles that come with specialized equipment. That said, some of the latter could well have used better judgment in choosing their modes of transportation and it’s those choices that we’ve used to compile the following list of the worst ideas for super-hero conveyances.
10) Flash’s Cosmic Treadmill
Who says that super-hero transportation needs to have wheels or wings? Not writer John Broome who came up with the cosmic treadmill for Flash #125 (1961). It seems just running super fast wasn’t enough to break the time barrier. A booster was needed so to speak. Enter the cosmic treadmill upon which the scarlet speedster would run, generating power to the point where he could break the time barrier and travel to the past or future. Don’t ask how, just accept it!
9) Blue Beetle’s Bug
If the Blue Beetle wanted to keep a low profile while prowling the city he could just forget the whole idea, not while getting around in a flying contraption he called the Bug! The Bug made its debut in Steve Ditko’s revival of the character in of all places Captain Atom #83 (1966), and was the Beetle’s answer to the batplane except that it could hover in the air and travel beneath the water as easily as it could fly about. The only thing was, it was big…and blue…and shaped like an eight legged…well, bug! Sure, it came in handy for whatever fix the Beetle found himself in but if he ever had any idea about not catching anyone’s attention while doing it, he could forget it!
8) X-Men’s SR71 Blackbird
The SR71 Blackbird was perhaps the coolest jet ever built (one of the last was retired to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum on the way to which, it broke speed records!) and intended by the US Air Force for use mainly as a supersonic, high flying spy plane replacing the more vulnerable U2. Its sleek lines and jet black look no doubt attracted either artist Dave Cockrum or writer Chris Claremont to use it in 1975 as fast and stealthy transportation for the new X-Men but it was just too much plane for the group’s activities many of which took place in cities or places with no room for such a specialized plane to land (it traveled so fast that its tires needed to be filled not with air but with nitrogen to keep them from exploding when the plane landed). The team should have stuck to the much more sensible X-Copter of earlier years.
7) The Fantastic Four’s Fantasti-Car
No, not the second version dreamed up by artist Jack Kirby. That one was rather cool looking. No, this was the first version that originally appeared in Fantastic Four #3 (1962), the one that looked like what one wag called a flying bathtub. Sure, it could split into four sections with independent flight capability, but even those sections were patently un-aerodynamic. Joined together in a single unit though, the original fantasticar was a sight to behold and likely a mild embarrassment for Mr. Fantastic who soon replaced it with a more streamlined version in FF #12. Whew!
6) Batman’s Batmobile
Not the various classic versions from 1940s roadster, to TV show nuclear powered dart, to suped up Camaro. We’re talking the up0armored, battle tank here. This totally useless version had its origins in the batmobile of the Tim Burton films that featured metal shielding that covered the car when Batman walked away from it. But the real impetus for the tank version was Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns in which the batmobile appears as a gigantic battle tank complete with asphalt grinding treads; perfect for keeping safe from menaces on the outside, but totally useless for getting around the narrow streets of Gotham let alone returning to the batcave while trying to shake off police pursuit! A downsized version of this batmobile was later featured in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of films except that car also drove up walls and over rooftops!
5) The Fantastic Four’s ICBM
Another of Mr. Fantastic’s bright ideas (or maybe it was really artist Jack Kirby’s), the FF’s ICBM multi-stage rocket was stored upright in a corner of the Baxter Building, the team’s New York City skyscraper headquarters. (You can see it in a handy diagram of the team’s headquarters provided by Marvel in FF Annual #3). When the team needed to get to the other side of the world in a hurry, they’d simply crowd into the rocket’s nose cone and blast off, likely violating city ordinances and every known FAA rule ever written. Luckily, the rocket was barely ever used with the team’s Pogo Plane providing swift, and more comfortable, inter-continental travel.
4) Ant-Man’s Catapult
All right, all right! Stop the chuckling! Ant-Man is a cool character, no matter what the Saturday Night Live crew did to belittle the guy. But even the most diehard Ant-Man admirers (he did have one of the best looking super-hero costumes ever) will have to admit that his unique form of transportation didn’t inspire too much confidence. Sure, most of the time, he could be seen flying around on the backs of ants that he controlled through the miracle of his cybernetic helmet, but even ants ran out of gas after relatively short distances and for those times when he needed to get farther and faster than a flying ant could go, our hero would resort to a catapult-like contraption (Jack Kirby strikes again!) in which he’d place himself like a tiny human cannonball act.
After entering the coordinates of the exact spot in the city where he wanted to land, he’d fire off across town while using his cybernetic helmet in-flight to have his loyal ants meet him at the prearranged landing site. There, the ants gathered in a bunch to provide him with a relatively soft landing. Why didn’t Ant-Man just build himself a tiny jet plane or something? You’re guess is as good as ours.
3) Wonder Woman’s Invisible Plane
Okay, we have stealth technology today, but one of the worst ideas for super-hero conveyances has to be Wonder Woman’s invisible plane. Likely, when somewhat off-his-rocker William Moulton Marsten dreamed up this white elephant in Sensation Comics #1 (1942), he probably thought it was the most natural thing in the world to have for a super-heroine who wanted to come and go from Paradise Island without being spotted by any curious males. But jeez! Did anyone think how she was going to land or take off in such a thing? How she was even going to find the hatch let alone read the instruments?
Apologists have tried to explain the plane away as an attempt by Marsten to frame some sort of allegory out of it, but don’t be fooled! This was one of the worst ideas for super-hero transport ever. Fortunately, cooler heads have prevailed over the years and the plane has seldom been heard from since the war years.
2) Spider-Man’s Spider-Mobile
It’s true! One of the most useless modes of transport for a super-hero, the spidermobile was roundly panned by readers even when it was only a rumor, never mind after it made its first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #130 (1974). However this dune buggy-like monstrosity was thought up, a worse idea for transportation, especially for the free swinging Spider-Man, could hardly be imagined. A diehard denizen of the mean streets of New York where parking spaces are practically non-existent and traffic is frequently gridlocked, the last thing our hero would seem to have needed was a vehicle that would keep him grounded while the bad guys did their dirty deeds. Luckily for Spidey and his fans alike, the spidermobile was basically a marketing stunt for Corona Motors and never intended by our hero as a serious means of transport.
1) SHIELD’s Helicarrier
Whose idea was it to headquarter the most high-tech, advanced, super-secret spy agency in a huge, lumbering, floating target in the sky? The blame, most likely, belonged to artist Jack Kirby who drew the first installment of the Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD strip in Strange Tales #135 (1965). True, the whole idea for the strip was to outdo the James Bond movies which in themselves often featured elements that were outrageous. But the producers of the Bond films were limited by FX technology and budgets while Kirby wasn’t. Hence, the King jammed that first SHIELD story with the crrrraziest stuff including LMDs (Life Model Decoys, natch), flying cars, disintegrator force fields… and that wild helicarrier, designed like a flying aircraft carrier as seen through a funhouse mirror. It was an eye-grabber for readers for sure, but could it fly? Definitely one of the most unlikely means of transportation ever seen in comics.