In a previous edition of #SuperheroProblems, I remarked that anyone who thinks ancient Egyptian pharaohs are a thing of the past must not be a superhero. Turns out the same principle applies to cavemen.
“Caveman” as a term is a little too broad to be helpful. I’m sure you can picture one if I asked you to: a hunched, hirsute, humanoid figure who wears fur, wields a club, and sells car insurance. We now know this depiction may be inaccurate and is based on outdated reconstructions of Neanderthal skeletons, though there is certainly still plenty of debate on the topic. In any case, it’s an image that continues to resonate, including in comic books.
Why are we so fascinated with cavemen, anyway? I suppose the answer to that is the same as it is for the pharaohs: they represent a more “primitive” yet more powerful version of ourselves. This contradictory combination of strength and weakness makes for a compelling enemy, especially when the person on the other side of the fight is a superhero who represents all that is good about modern man. So let’s see how these men of tomorrow react when faced with the men of yesteryear…
Turn the Fight into War Propaganda
Perhaps the most famous caveman foe of all, Vandal Savage debuted in Green Lantern #10 (that’s Alan Scott, not Hal Jordan, so you know this character is vintage). Thanks to an ancient meteor, this Cro Magnon man found himself super-intelligent, super-long-lived, and super-skeevy.
Savage infiltrated the U.S. government in an attempt to turn World War II in Germany’s favor. He figured a world run by dictators is less boring. (When you’re an immortal, boredom is a big threat.) GL gets him on fraud charges — Savage had to use a fake name to hide his immortality — and then dumps in a bottomless pit.
In an entry that would fit just as well in my article on evolution in comics, Avengers #90-91 has Yellowjacket investigating strange reports from the Arctic Circle. Before he can report his findings, he and everything else in an ever-widening radius is de-evolved by Ronan the Accuser in an attempt to destroy the threat Earth’s heroes present to his various evil plans.
Despite his transformation, Yellowjacket somewhat remembers his wife, the Wasp, and kidnaps her when she comes to rescue him. Even Ronan points out that she could easily escape his grasp, but she chooses not to because love, I guess. So she sits around crying until the other Avengers save her. Lovely.
Get Saved by Irony
In Teen Titans #2, our heroes receive a call for help from the picturesque town of Smedleyville. There, they encounter a very strange young man, Garn, who turns out to be a caveman (caveboy?) who was trapped in clay, eventually freed as the clay eroded, and taken in by an elderly farmer.
Garn’s a pretty groovy guy, which is more than can be said for his nemesis Akkuru, another de-clayed caveman. And he has a magic axe for some reason. He kicks the Titans’ butts pretty thoroughly, and Akkuru defeats himself when he is buried by a dam that he destroyed.
Later, the Titans would encounter another friendly caveman, Gnarrk, who still pops up to help them from time to time.
Get Captured by Someone Else
In Daredevil #12, the Man Without Fear briefly goes toe-to-toe with the Man Without Pants: Ka-Zar, leader of the primitive Savage Land. But their fight is due to a misunderstanding. The real caveman battle takes place in the next issue.
Ka-Zar brings a wounded Daredevil to his cave and then leaves in search of a medicinal plant. This leaves our hero vulnerable to an attack by Maa-Gor, an “ape man” who tries to kill Daredevil. The comic makes it clear that DD would have been toast if another villain hadn’t scared Maa-Gor off with a gun — and then captured Daredevil. Not exactly a red-letter day for our hero.
Impress Him with Your Automotive Knowledge
After Superman thaws out a caveman trapped in ice in Action Comics #129, the caveman, named Gob-Gob, takes a liking to Lois Lane. She really likes the whole “caveman” routine, because this is 1948 and everything is terrible.
When Superman stops him from grabbing Lois, Gob-Gob goes on a rampage, even destroying a car. Superman then fixes the car to show off his power and demonstrate that creating things is always better than destroying them. This somehow works, and Gob-Gob surrenders.
Following many, many more shenanigans, it transpires that “Gob-Gob” was an actor hired by a film company that wanted to promote their new caveman movie, but he got so into the role that he did actually believe he was a caveman for a while there. I know most Europeans have traces of Neanderthal DNA in them, but this is ridiculous.