Superhero comics, recipe like soap operas, this site are quite shameless when it comes to co-opting “hot” trends as grist for the industry’s ever-churning story mill. Chalk it up to a creative formula that mixes outright pandering with a willingness by the parties involved to wear their influences on their sleeves…and printed in neon orange, healthful to boot.
Subcultures, especially musical ones, have traditionally gotten the laughable end of the stick where superhero comics are concerned. The list of characters, or rather “caricatures,” inspired by then-current music trends offers enough Nobody’s Favorites candidates to see me through until the heat death of the universe. Disco had Dazzler, old school hip-hop had Vibe, grunge had…uh…Grunge, and punk rock had Karma (a.k.a. Wayne Hawkins or Wayne “Tarrant,” depending on which source you consult)…
Karma (not to be confused with the Vietnamese member of Marvel’s New Mutants) was introduced in the pages of Doom Patrol #4 (January 1988). He served, along with a magnetically-powered redhead and (no lie) a leukemia patient with burning hands, as a member of the team’s junior auxiliary during the post-Crisis, pre-Grant Morrison run of the title, when the series was an utterly generic superteam book helmed by Paul Kupperberg.
Karma’s power was the ability to psychically subvert the actions of whoever attempted to harm him, meaning that if you took a swing at him, you’d end up throwing out you back or breaking your hand on a wall instead. (I’d advise you not to dwell on the problematic mechanics of how the power worked. Nothing good will come of it, trust me.) Though this had little to do with the actual metaphysical concept of karma in accordance with either Hinduism, Buddhism, or John Lennon’s “instant” variety, what really mattered was his function within the overall team dynamic. Karma, with his abrasive over-the-top punkitude, served an important role as the Doom Patrol’s resident Dude with a ‘Tude…
…and what easier way to get that across to the reading public than through the iconography of a subcultural stereotype, albeit a slightly dated one (for 1988)? (I myself got into punk rock around that time, but even through the haze of clueless enthusiasm I knew that the scene’s glory days had gone by.) Should the popcult shorthand expressed through the combination of mohawk and piercings be too ambiguous to parse, additional clarification was provided via the tried and true method of dropping some appropriately “shocking” band names…
…chosen for maximum “punkish” effect, as opposed to verisimilitude. Then again, the 1988 + mohawk + soul patch + Throbbing Gristle and Butthole Surfers CD’s (as opposed to LPs) ensemble could also be interpreted to mean that Karma wasn’t a hooligan plucked from the mean streets, but instead a trust-funded art student killing time at UMass Boston. The easiest way to verify that hypothesis would be to visit the Wit’s End Cafe between classes to see if he was camped out in a corner, smoking cloves and chatting up freshman English majors.
“You have a poet’s soul. Wanna go back to my place and bone to live Skinny Puppy bootlegs?”
Karma was dropped from the team roster with Kupperberg’s departure and eventually met a typical z-lister demise fighting alongside the Suicide Squad in the War of the Gods crossover event, though I’ll lay even money on his impending return as the most ‘tudacious member of the Black Lantern Corps. Whether that bitter cherry on the sundae of shame materializes or not, Karma’s stupid name, nonsensical powers, and existence as a broad caricature of a moribund sterotype nets him the honor of being Nobody’s Favorite.
(An earlier, pre-Nobody’s Favorites version of this post appeared on AT 1.0 back in April 2008.)