Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Lame-ass villains #15 - The Nuclear Family

"We're a happy family
We're a happy family
We're a happy family
Me mom and daddy"
-The Ramones

The Nuclear Family were a group of evil, stupid atomic-powered robots who fought Batman and The Outsiders. They were created by nuclear physicist/robotics expert Dr. Eric Shanner, who lost his family to the effects of radiation.
I guess Shanner forgot to wash his hands after he got off work at Los Alamos, because he gave his family a lethal dose of the Atomic Crud, which was pretty careless of him. Grief-stricken, the brilliant but hygienically challenged physicist did what any of us would do if we lost our entire family to radiation poisoning: he created creepy robotic replicas of his dead family. Oh, and he gave them all powers that replicated the effects of a nuclear blast. You know, to honor the memory of the deceased. Dr. Shanner also creates a replica of his younger self ("Dad") to interact with the rest of The Nuclear Family, which is weird. Plus, he creates a robotic version of the family dog. Shanner must have really loved that dog, although not enough to give the dog replicant an actual name - it is referred to as "Dog."
Batman and the Outsiders writer Mike Barr had a knack for creating stupid villains who were seemingly designed around their catchy names like The Nuclear Family, The Force of July, Masters of Disaster, Ghetto Blaster (no, really), and Agent Orange. The Nuclear Family represents the height of dumb villainy created solely as opponents for the second-string Outsiders. To my knowledge, they have never been used by any other writers on account of them being so damn stupid.
As you can see, The Nuclear Family are a caricature of the gee-whiz 1950's jet age whitebread American family and its uneasy balance between suburban domestic bliss and Cold War paranoia. A lot of the villains Barr created for Batman and The Outsiders were broadly satirical takes on American life (Duke of Oil, anyone?) and The Nuclear Family was no exception. I get the underlying metaphor of The Nuclear Family - it's not particularly subtle - but that doesn't mean I have to think they are cool.
Because they are not cool. The Nuclear Family are lame-ass villains and that's why they are here.


Anonymous said...

They, I swear, showed up in Battle of Bludhaven this very year.

Big Al said...

Either the DC offices were located on a toxic dump, where fumes leaked up thru the floor, or, they were unendingly high.

Anonymous said...

That's one creepy-ass dog.

Elliott said...

"Happy Birthday, you old bastard" "Smithers, have the Rolling Stones killed"

I swear every time I think of the Ramones I think of the Simpsons now.

lostinube said...

They did show up in the Battle for Bludhaven. Dog was awesome in it. (Wait, was it him or the boy swearing at the other criminals?) I'd never heard of them before and while the name was goofy they didn't seem all that sucky. Oh well. Live and learn.
Actually, didn't the Battle for Bludhaven also bring back a version of the Force of July (Freedom's Ring)? I think someone at DC has a bit of an Outsiders fetish.

ghostman said...

Of course, in some parts of the country it's pronounced "Nuculer" Family.

I knew the Force of July was lame from seeing them get spectacularly massacred in Suicide Squad (cue mental picture of Doctor Light blasting a giant hole clean through Sparkler's chest), but I didn't realize that they came from the same Fountain of Lameness that produced the Nuclear Family. But Ghetto Blaster is clearly deserving of his own Lame Villain post, when circumstances permit--I've got to see this guy.

An atomic-powered robot dog is a totally bad idea, though: he'll never ever get tired of fetching the stick, he'll leave radioactive waste in your yard, and when he wants to go for a walk, he gets to go for a walk.

Uncle Patrick said...

Sounds like a great group of villains for the Metal Men!

idiolect said...

I say give them their own mini-series!

Well, maybe only if Warren Ellis is free ...

Michael Weiss said...

The Nuclear Family represents the height of dumb villainy created solely as opponents for the second-string Outsiders.

I must respectfully disagree. That honor belongs to the singularly horrible Madame Ovary.

solipsistnation said...

Call Grant Morrison-- he's got a job to do!

Haole said...

Sorry, Dave, this is an awesome concept -- an evil family of atomic-powered robots. including the pet dog, built in the image of their creator's family.

Like Uncle Patrick, I first thought of them as great opponents of the Metal Men.

Like solipsistnation, I agree, Grant Morrison could rip shit up with the Nuclear Family.

Anyone actually read Battle for Bludhaven and care to recap the Nuclear Family's activities in it?

Dan Coyle said...

You know, I have a friend who despises, utterly DESPISES everything Mike W. Barr has ever written, and when I see stuff like this, I know why.

Oh man, that joke felt tired even 20 years ago (I assume it was in the 80s?).

Harvey Jerkwater said...

They seem like the kind of villains that you'd defeat by hurling Hostess Fruit Pies at them.

"I nearly destroyed Gotham with my Deuterium Death Drone, but I'd rather have this rich fruity filling and flaky crust!"

Dan Coyle said...

Everyone always talks about the Hostess Fruit Pies, but what about the snake puzzle? After all, it foiled one of the best criminal masterminds!



Jamie Ott said...

Actually, the Nuclear family appeared in this years Battle for Bludhaven earlier this year as was pointed out. There were a number of villain teams (all lame) looking for the source of Bludhaven's radioactivity. I won't spoil it here, however.

There were a few lame hero teams in it as well, so it balanced out in the end.

And Dog had some of the best lines in the series, seriously.

Also, Duke of Oil made an appearance in Green Arrow in the last year as well.

Lame is the new black, people!


Mark Hale said...

Jesus Christ, an atomic-powered robotic JR "Bob" Dobbs?

I'll never sleep again.

nightfly said...

That dude looks like the lamest cowboy ever, unless that's one ugly fedora. And has anyone ever seen an angrier dog?

This is a put on, right? These are actually rejected "Codename: Kids Next Door" villians - right? Please tell me I'm right.

CBrown said...

"Shanner must have really loved that dog, although not enough to give the dog replicant an actual name - it is referred to as "Dog."

I guess he loved that dog as much as he loved his two youngest children, especially the youngest son . . . "Sis" and "Brat"!

thedeadpenguin said...

Another vote for "awesome" and for "Get Grant Morrison on this NOW". Seriously.

Anonymous said...

Who created "Duke of Oil", the Texan robot?

Chris Sims said...


Bully said...

I'm with Chris. I loved how wacky and far out those Mike Barr issues were.

Look, if Morrison had created them in the nineties, you'd all be genuflecting. Barr was ahead of his time. And all his letter columns threatens the readers with getting their lungs cut out and put in a bucket by Katana.

Patrick said...

I've never read The Outsiders, a book and a team that has struck me as a lame idea in all its incarnations, so I can't attest to Barr's execution. But from what you've said, Dave... the Nuclear Family actually sounds like a good concept.

The radioactive blasts are a bit much, but give this concept to a good writer and I'll bet you could do something pretty creepy with it.

arizonateach said...

Seriously. If this appeared in Doom Patrol, people would rave about how ironically post-modern it is.

roel said...

I can't believe nobody here has given Mike Barr credit for writing Camelot 3000. That was a tremendous story. It really was. I feel that series was better than 99% of the comics ever produced. But I guess your mileage may vary.

SJP said...

Camelot 3000?!?!? Hell, yeah, roel!!!! I hear ya all they way. And that Brian Bolland was no slouch on art chores either.

thomas said...

I agree with sjp. Brian Bolland rules. Hey Dave, how 'bout reviewing some Bolland comics (the few he did before he focused on covers.)

Ragnell said...

I have to agree with weveryone who finds them cool.

They were in battle for Bludhaven, but I can't recap it for you guys because I can't for the life of me identify a plot to B4B. It was just.. four-color chaos. I loved, but I remember very little of it.

Force of July was there, too.

Just about every character in the DCU that was ever irradiated was there. And they fought each other. I don't know who won, but Hal dropped a green refrigerator on Major Force. It was fun.

James said...

Strictly speaking, I don't think the Nuclear Family ever fought "Batman and the Outsiders." They're from the later "Outsiders"/"Adventures of the Outsiders" phase. In fact, they may have been the very first opponent after moving to Los Angeles.

I don't think they were so bad by the standards of the day -- Barr's themed villain teams got a little irritating, I admit.

Anonymous said...

Barr also gave us The Redemption of Clone Hitler, one of the most unintentionally hilarious and disturbing comic plots I've ever read:

Whack-ass ideas alone don't automatically equal genius. There's a difference between a four-year old splattering paint on a canvas and a Jackson Pollock painting.

Jeff Rients said...

For reasons I cannot fully explain Mom's orange hair-helmet gives me the creeps.

chad sexington said...

Their origin would make a lot more sense if the Atomic Crud was some sort of bioweapon instead of radiation sickness. At least then you could explain how Shanner was unaffected by something that killed his entire family by saying that he'd already received or been exposed to the antidote.

He's still nuttier than squirrel poop either way, though.

KB said...

I'm with those who found these villians to be awesome in their own way. In fact, the Force of July are perhaps my favorite second string villians of all time. I just bought the entire run of Batman and the Outsiders just to relive some of the awesomeness of the Force and Ghetto Blaster.

SwanShadow said...

I believe that Dad's secret identity is J.R. "Bob" Dobbs.

Marionette said...

|I've just been reading Battle for Bludhaven and they do indeed appear in it, although it's unclear where they come from or who is controlling them, or even what they are doing there. By the end of the mini most, if not all, are destroyed. It's kinda hard to tell.

Ragnell is right. It is indeed a weird and whacked out miniseries that makes very little sense but has some fun stuff in it.

Tim Easy said...

I wonder what Black Bolt would have to say about The Nuclear Family. Wait, on second though, I don't want to know what Black Bolt has to say about anything.

pgr1974 said...

I'm with the revisionists here. If you ignore their name, their origins, their powers and their looks, there's nothing remotely lame about the Nuclear Family.

Now we need a post on the Duke of Oil!

Greg said...

The Nuclear Family were the first bad guys the Outsiders fought when Barr and Aparo relaunched the title in 1985 or so. Then came the Duke of Oil. The stories were kind of lousy, but they weren't as awful as they could have been. Barr is a good writer, even if his concepts were off occasionally, so he made these issues work to an extent, even if you're sitting there thinking to yourself, "What stupid villains these are."

And Barr got in fights with the fans in the letter columns, so they're fun to read.

Gabriel Villa said...

I posted a review of Y: The Last Man on my blog. Don´t need to go there, as it´s in portuguese. But Why don´t you talk about it a little? It´s one of my favourites.

eek! said...

Eh, I wouldn't say never... I don't know how related this might be but there's an "Agent Orange" in Wildcats 3.0 And a fucked-up "happy family" team of black ops agents to go with him that could go by the name Nuclear Family... without the raditation to justify it, though. Given that DC owns them...


Anonymous said...

eek, I thought the exact same thing! Seems too close not to be an homage.

RachelEvil said...

Honestly, that first picture of them is creepy and cool as hell.

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