Challengers of the Unknown

For the alternate series, see Challengers of the Unknown (alternate series).
Challengers of the Unknown

Challengers of the Unknown #1 (1958).
Cover art by Jack Kirby.
Publication information
Publisher DC Comics
First appearance Showcase #6 (Feb. 1957)
Created by Jack Kirby (writer - artist)
In-story information
Base(s) Challengers Mountain
Member(s) Kyle "Ace" Morgan
Matthew "Red" Ryan
Leslie "Rocky" Davis
Walter Mark "Prof" Haley
June Robbins

The Challengers of the Unknown is a group of fictional characters in comic books published by DC Comics. The quartet of adventurers explored science fictional and apparent 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,[1] a co-creation with writer Dave Wood[2] or a co-creation with Kirby's former partner Joe Simon.[3] Following the end of the Challengers comic, DC has revived the characters in different incarnations over the years.

Publication history

Showcase #6 (Feb. 1957), the first appearance of the Challengers of the Unknown. Art by penciler Jack Kirby and unknown inker.

The adventuring quartet the Challengers of the Unknown debuted in Showcase #6 (Feb. 1957), in an uncredited story attributed to Jack Kirby for art and to Kirby and Dick Wood for script, under editor Jack Schiff.[4]

The series continued in the bimonthly Showcase for three more appearances (#7, 11-12, April 1957, Dec. 1957 - Feb. 1958)[5] 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.[6] The title continued through issue #75 (Sept. 1970), followed by two reprint issues. The series was canceled with issue #77 in 1971 (Jan. 1971). In 1973, three reprint issues were published (#78–80).[6]


In a short-lived 1977 revival, the Challengers were again a four-man, one-woman team in Super-Team Family #8-10. The group then received its own title back with issue #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.

In 2000, DC published a one-shot, Silver Age: Challengers of the Unknown, done in the style of the original Silver Age of Comic Books Challengers.

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.

Leslie "Rocky" Davis appears regularly Doom Patrol, in which he serves as something of a counselor to the members of that team, and resides on Oolong Island.

The New 52

A reboot appeared in DC Universe Presents in 2012 written by Dan DiDio and drawn by Jerry Ordway. It featured the characters from every version revamped as stars of a reality competition.

Alternative versions

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 ran 18 issues, through 1998.

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. This 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.[7] 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.[8]

When Red is killed,[9] 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.[10] The surviving Challengers are placed on trial, but eventually freed with the testimony of Superman. They are, however, ordered to disband.[11]

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.[12]

"The New Challengers of the Unknown", including ghostly Prof and June, were poised to take on menaces in the dark corners of the world.[12]

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,.[13] 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.[14]

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.

Other versions

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.

The Challengers also made brief appearances in JLA: Another Nail (when all time periods meld together) and Adventures of Superman Annual #7 (as part of a strikeforce of non-powered heroes).

They were prominently featured in Darwyn Cooke's DC: The New Frontier miniseries (2003–2004). Various members were essential in many battles against menaces that arose throughout the series.

In the 1996 crossover series Amalgam Comics, the Challengers were merged with the Fantastic Four to become Challengers of The Fantastic.


The Challengers of the Unknown have faced an array of villains:

In other media




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.


The 1950-60s series won the 1967 Alley Awards for Best Non-Super-Powered Group Title and Best Normal Adventure Group.

Collected editions

DC has reprinted The early Challenger stories, including Kirby's run, in two hardcover DC Archives and paperback, black and white Showcase Presents:

The Loeb-Sale mini was reprinted as a trade paperback, Challengers of the Unknown Must Die! (December 2004, ISBN 1-4012-0374-4),[19] as was the Chaykin mini-series (March 2006, ISBN 1-4012-0941-6).[20]


  1. Challengers of the Unknown at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on April 14, 2012.
  2. 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"..."
  3. Wallace, Dan (2008), "Challengers of the Unknown", in Dougall, Alastair, The DC Comics Encyclopedia, New York: Dorling Kindersley, p. 77, ISBN 0-7566-4119-5, OCLC 213309017
  4. Showcase #6 at the Grand Comics Database.
  5. Showcase (DC, 1956 series) at the Grand Comics Database.
  6. 1 2 Challengers of the Unknown (DC, 1958 series) at the Grand Comics Database.
  7. Challengers of the Unknown #47 (Dec. 1965–Jan. 1966).
  8. "Showcase" #7 (April 1957)
  9. Challengers of the Unknown #55 (Apr.–May 1957).
  10. Challengers of the Unknown vol. 2, #1 (Mar. 1991).
  11. Challengers of the Unknown vol. 2, #2 (Apr. 1991).
  12. 1 2 Challengers of the Unknown vol. 2, #8 (Oct. 1991).
  13. Villains United: Infinite Crisis Special #1
  14. Infinite Crisis #7
  15. Challengers of the Unknown Archive #1 at DC
  16. Challengers of the Unknown Archive #2 at DC
  17. Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown: Volume 1 at DC
  18. Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown: Volume 2 Archived February 26, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. at DC
  19. Challengers of the Unknown Must Die! at DC
  20. Stolen Moments, Borrowed Time at DC

External links

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