Making the Grade: Who’s Who, Vol. XIX

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We’re heading into the home stretch, people! Don’t bail out on me now! Time once again for our weekly look at DC’s Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe. This week: Volume Ecks-Eye-Ecks, from Puzzler to Roy Raymond, TV Detective. 

This one… it’s a weird one, I gotta say. It starts with the cover, which is an Ernie Colón production. Now, Colón has done a lot of great work over the course of his career and I’m not saying this cover is bad, per se, just a mite… confusing. At the very least, I would have thought Raven or Red Tornado, just on the strength of their team affiliations, would have taken the prime front-cover spot — or even Robin, who is arguably the most famous DC property featured in this issue. But no, for some reason Red Tornado has to share that coveted spot with a definitive D-lister like Quakemaster.

Meanwhile, Robotman and Red Star are getting into a scrap for some reason, there’s a big spectral wolf’s head behind Rostov (probably to signify he’s a werewolf, but… why?), Rainbow Raider’s patented rainbow mode of transport is somehow shooting out of his back, Raven looks like she’s developed cataracts, Queen Bee’s wings look enormous compared to the picture with her entry inside…

…It’s just a lot of little things, y’know? But in the words of one of the letter writers in this issue, “I love WHO’S WHO but as in every issue, nothing is perfect. So let’s get on with it.” Well said.   

Onward!

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Puzzler
This guy joins Prankster and the Toyman in that subset of Golden Age Superman villains who used childhood games and playthings as a motif, the only difference being the Puzzler sucked eggs. How so, you ask? Well, he’s “obsessed with games, tricks and puzzles,” but it turns out he’s not really good at them. First off, if you’re going to challenge a superhero to a game of cards, then you probably want to choose someone who doesn’t have X-ray vision. Second, he once entered a games of chance tournament as a masked contestant and didn’t win a single game, losing at poker, rummy, hearts, casino, bridge and blackjack. So what does he do? He goes after the winners of each game, starting with the poker champ, whom he beats to death… with a fireplace poker. Then he tried to force the bridge champ’s car off a bridge, and attempted to induce a heart attack in the hearts champ. Come on, Puzzler! If you’re going down the ironic murder route, at least put some effort into it. Trap your victims in a giant card-themed maze. Go Saw on their asses and force them to play a card game where the winner literally takes all. Hell, even slitting the throat of the hearts champ with the jagged edge of a CD by the band best known for “Crazy on You” and “What About Love” would at least show a little effort. D-

Quakemaster
First sign of suck: green and purple costume. Second sign: a letter Q on his chest and a second one on his belt buckle. Quite queer, that. Third sign: he’s an architect who felt unfairly blamed when some of his buildings fell down during a hurricane, so he created a special “power-charged jackhammer” to cause earthquakes, thereby proving… that earthquakes are also bad? Anyway, his scheme backfired when only his buildings collapsed during the artificial quake he caused, probably while a trombone wah-wahhhhed in the background. You never really think of architects turning into super-villains, do you? Well, yes, Frank Gehry, obviously… but anyone else? D

Queen Bee
So, a while ago I did a list about ridiculous comic characters based on bees, and now we have two of them in this very issue! Fun! First up: the zesty Zazzala, yet another female baddie whose main motive is acquiring everlasting youth and beauty. This fetching ruler of the planet Korll created an army of bee-men to go find an immortality serum for her, which for some reason brought her into contact with Earth and the Justice League of America. Green Lantern fixes it so that she can’t open the vials she was looking for (probably muttering “I got yer vial right here, toots” while he was at it), but she eventually got the serum anyway… only to discover it rendered her immobile unless she was surrounded by powerful magnetic fields. So she took the only logical course of action she could: she used her “magno-nuclear” rod to shrink our heroes into tiny winged versions of themselves. Wait… what? D+

Question
Like Blue Beetle and Captain Atom, the Question was another Charlton property recently acquired by DC when Who’s Who came out, so there’s nothing here about Hub City or Renee Montoya. Nope, this here is Vic Sage, crusading Chicago journalist who uses some minor scientific gimcrackery in his extralegal quest to “see that justice is done by the equal application of an unbending, objective standard of ethics to all men and their actions.” Yes, you can safely assume Steve Ditko was well into his Atlas Shrugged phase when he dreamed up this guy. One odd note: it says the Question would often coerce information out of criminals by threatening to expose them to the same gas that creates his mask and changes the color of his clothes. How would that work, exactly? Why would the bad guys assume the gas is fatal? Wouldn’t at least one of them demand to see proof of the gas’s toxicity before ratting out his buddies? Or does the Question specialize in terrorizing fashion-forward types who wouldn’t be caught dead in powder-blue suits and orange shirts? B-

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Quicksilver
It’s hard to know where to begin with this mysterious Golden Age speedster (who would later be revived by DC and renamed Max Mercury for obvious reasons). Do we talk about his ethnically offensive pals, a Native American named Shoshone and a Chinese servant boy named Hoo Mee? Or the fact he was called “the Laughing Robin Hood,” even though he didn’t steal from the rich, give to the poor, wear green or use a bow and arrow? Or that he didn’t seem to have an alter ego or visible means of support, yet somehow maintained a fully stocked secret lair in a cave? No, let’s instead focus on the background art that shows Quicksilver tangling with an unnamed villain who is fat, bald, aging, bespectacled, wearing a tight bodysuit with insect wings, and trying to kill Quicksilver with what appear to be a pair of giant knitting needles. Weird. Bizarre. Eerie. Weird. C

Quislet
The oddest of the oddball Legionnaires, Quislet was a sentient spark of energy that lived inside a tiny spaceship, leaving his vessel only to possess inanimate objects and reshape them, usually into forms that can punch things. Where he came from, why he came to Earth, what motives he had for joining the Legion — who needs to know all that boring stuff? He’s a tiny alien! In a tiny spaceship! Who said “Hurrah!” when he tangled with bad guys! And he exited the series with the best final words of any comics character in the history of time! What I’m saying here is, he’s all right. A

Qward
“Qwardians reveled in violence and torture, and persecuted or imprisoned humanitarian members of their society. Hence Qwardian society is often said to be totally devoted to evil.” Not all the time, mind you, just often. It’s hard to imagine a more barbarous and evil place than a planet where people preaching peace and non-violence are imprisoned or killed. Imagine if we treated our advocates for peace the same way, people like Jesus or Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King or… oh. C

Rag Doll
He’s a Golden Age criminal and triple-jointed contortionist who dressed up like a life-sized Raggedy Andy and killed people, more or less in that order. Later in his career, Rag Doll and his criminal colleagues were trapped in an inter-dimensional limbo, “but most of them were later released by a court decision.” Good to know the jurisdiction of American courts transcends known time and space. This is exactly the sort of judicial activism that sends Hawkman on to Fox News to bitch about liberal judges. B

Ragman
Rory Regan was a former soldier who lived with his dad in the slums of Gotham City. The dad promised his dying wife he would someday get Rory out of the slums and offer him a better life, but for some reason his master plan of running a pawn and junk shop in the projects didn’t get them get any closer to that goal. Through circumstances too bizarre to recount here, Regan somehow electrically absorbs the fighting skills of his dad and his shiftless friends, and he uses them whilst dressed in tattered rags to fight for justice as Ragman. Good for him. C-

Rainbow Raider
Oh, Roy. Roy, Roy, Roy. Where do we even begin? Maybe with his motive for villainy: according to his bio, Roy G. Bivolo (get it?) was a child who could have been a great artist if not for the fact he was completely color-blind, and he turned to color-themed super-villainy out of frustration over his thwarted dreams (the fact that many artists have found fame working in monochrome never occurred to Bivolo for some reason… or it’s possible he was lying about the whole child prodigy thing). Then there’s the method by which he obtained his admittedly-not-totally-useless “prisma-goggles” — his father, a “brilliant optometrist,” invented them to help his son see colors, and gave them to his son on his deathbed. Seriously, how freakin’ lame is that? “Yeah, I was raised from childhood in a hellish prison where I learned that only the strong survive, and then I was subjected to unspeakable medical experiments that turned me into an unstoppable killing machine. So, where did you say you got those goggles?” “Um… my dad made them for me?” D-

Rann
The planet Rann never impressed me much, mainly because it seemed less a planet than a Hollywood backlot writ large. Got a story about a giant monster? Boom, here’s a valley with giant monsters. Want to put your leading man in a story about people afraid of technology? Boom, here’s a city where residents see science as witchcraft. It’s like they just put every sci-fi trope in a blender and called it a planet. Plus, given how often they get conquered and/or overrun with space creatures and invading armadas, you’d think someone would see the inherent flaw in the decentralized city-state model of governance. But no, they just keep on keeping on, always expecting a horny Earthling with a jet pack to pull their asses out of the fire. C-

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R’as al-Ghul
Most contend the Joker is the definitive Batman foe, and I wouldn’t argue with that. But there’s also a solid case for placing R’as al-Ghul in the top spot in Batman’s  gallery of rogues (which I always like to picture as an actual art gallery of oil paintings featuring portraits of Penguin, Croc, et al.). First, he’s not a one-note villain obsessed with a particular theme; he can and will do almost anything to advance his goals, giving him a refreshing air of unpredictability. He’s global in scope, not restricted to any one locale, and his genocidal actions are at least partly sympathetic, in that he’s motivated by a desire to save the planet from human folly. He also has nothing personal against Batman; in fact, he respects him as an adversary and deems him the only man worthy of his daughter. Speaking of which, can we talk about her for a minute? Because anyone who sires someone that hot can’t be all bad. Plus, he’s an Arab character who’s about as far from an Arab stereotype as you can get, and damn does he know how to work a business suit and cape. This is what quality work looks like, people. A

Raven
Raven’s origin (hippie chick in satanic cult gets knocked up by powerful demon; result of said knocking-up then raised by pacifists in other-dimensional world) sounds like the plot of your average ’70s religious horror film, which makes sense since she debuted as one of the New Teen Titans in 1980. I want to like her, I really do, but she’s so boring, combining Deanna Troi’s “let me feel your feeeelings” empathic powers with a premise that really only worked up until she fulfilled her predestined role and defeated her daemonic daddy. Which she did, five issues into the Titans’ fancy new series in 1984. After that… meh. Kudos to the animation people who found her dark, theme-rich centre when they made the Teen Titans cartoon; it’s about the only time I ever found her tolerable. C-

Ray
As in “a ray of light,” of course, but I keep thinking he has the same first name as my dad and just called himself Ray because he couldn’t come up with a kick-ass codename. “Happy” Terrill was your average Golden Age reporter who got zapped by lightning while on assignment and received light and electric-based powers as a result. Then, because life isn’t worth living if you’re not kicking Nazi ass 24/7, he traveled to a parallel Earth with other heroes to fight in a Second World War that never ended. “It has even been said that the Ray can turn himself into pure light.” Well, said by whom? Are they a reputable source? Do we have documented evidence of this transformation, which would be somewhat more impressive than your standard flying and finger-zapping powers? What, were the editors of this entry consulting Wikipedia the night before their assignments were due? C

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Reactron

All right, let’s get out our checklist. Stupid name? Check. Ugly and impractical costume? Check. Bog-standard origin that shows no one gave a crap where his nuclear powers came from or how they worked? Check. Standard Infantino pose with bonus background floating head? Check. This Flash villain only rates half a page because — wait, he fought Supergirl? You sure? Huh. D

Red Bee
Oh, man. Oh, MAN. And I quote: “The Red Bee unleashed ‘trained’ bees from his belt to attack his opponents. It is not known how he managed to control the bees so well.” Let me repeat that for you: when the Red Bee went up against mobsters and Nazis, he fought them with trained bees that he kept in his belt. True story: I once had an entire dinner party rolling under the table when the topic of lame superheroes came up and I mentioned this guy; they simply could not believe I wasn’t making him up. They had so many questions. Why would a district attorney-turned-vigilante use bees as a weapon? How did he control them? How many bees could he fit into his belt? Why would bad guys with guns be deterred by a couple of bees flying at them? Why wouldn’t they just shoot the asshole in the striped tights and pirate-shirt sleeves and let the bees go fly off looking for flowers? It’s tempting to give him the lowest grade possible, but you know what? I can’t. He’s so irretrievably daft that it’s almost admirable he ever made it to print. And that should count for something. C-

Red Star
Billed as Starfire before DC decided to bestow that moniker on someone with a few more curves, this guy was a Soviet hero whom the original Teen Titans tangled with on a few occasions, unusually whenever the writers had a point to make about the Cold War. Got his powers from an alien spacecraft, became the Soviet Union’s only official superhero, had to kill his girlfriend when she was deliberately infected with a “radiation plague”… man, do they even have a word in Russian for happy-go-lucky? C

Red Tornado I
Abigail “Ma” Hunkel was an ample-figured mother and grocery store owner who occasionally donned red longjohns, green boxer shorts and a cooking pot on her head to fight crooks as the Red Tornado. Oh, and she sometimes brought a couple of toddlers known as the Cyclone Kids along with her. Obviously played for laughs by Sheldon Mayer (of Sugar and Spike fame), this was one of the first-ever superhero parodies and funny as hell, so there’s really no point in making fun of it or bemoaning its lack of realism (though I’m sure someone out there has tried). You did well, Shel. B+

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Red Tornado II
The first Red Tornado was as simple as it gets: concerned citizen puts on a disguise and beats bad guys with a rolling pin. This guy? Not so much. He started out as a “sentient living tornado” from the planet Rann who tried taking over that world. Then a chance encounter with the Justice League convinced him to become a superhero, calling himself Tornado Champion. For no reason at all, natch. Then, his evil personality physically separated from his good side, and the two battled back and forth (“…and the trailer parks doth trembled”). Then, the Tornado Champion left for Earth where he inhabited the body of an android built by T.O. Morrow to destroy the Justice League, somehow losing his memory in the process. But then he did remember, and he joined the Justice League while still inhabiting the android body and named himself Red Tornado because why the hell not. There’s a lot more here about what happened to R.T. during and after the Crisis, but frankly I’m too freaked out by the floating heads representing his civilian identity and adopted family to care. Seriously, what’s up with those facial expressions? It’s like the last three faces a hitchhiker victim sees before the trunk door shuts. C-

Reverse-Flash
We’ve had a lot of laughs so far at the expense of the Flash’s villains, but now it’s time to introduce you to the ne plus ultra of ridiculous Flash villains. He’s a criminal. From the 25th century. Who somehow gets a hold of an old costume of the Flash’s that he found in a time capsule. And then figures out how to use the “super-speed wave patterns” in the costume to gain the Flash’s powers. And then — because God forbid he show any sign of originality — he reversed the costume’s colors and called himself the Reverse-Flash. And then he goes back in time to mess with the Flash and kill his wife (but not before her spirit is transplanted in the body of a 30th-century woman). And the really ridiculous part? All Barry Allen had to do to get rid of this guy was go back in time to when he decided to throw his costume into the time capsule and speed-smack himself up the side of his head. But that was somehow beyond the capabilities of a guy with a time-traveling treadmill. D-

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Rex the Wonder Dog
Yes, the legends are true! REX THE WONDER DOG! Who served in Korea and was awarded a medal for bravery? REX THE WONDER DOG! Who cleared his owner of murder charges by solving the case? REX THE WONDER DOG! Who worked as a Hollywood stunt dog and forest ranger before discovering Skartaris years before that Warlord wimp ever set foot on it? REX THE WONDER DOG! Who’s drawn by Gil Kane in a crazy-eyes way that makes it unclear whether he’s saving that baby from a fire or fetching it for a midnight snack? REX THE WONDER DOG! Who drank from the Fountain of Youth and will be burying humanity’s bones in the backyard long after our greatest works are naught but dust? REX THE WONDER DOG! YOU CANNOT HANDLE THE WONDER THAT IS REX THE WONDER DOG!!! A++++

Richard Dragon
Man, it must have been hard being a DC fan in the ’70s. While Marvel responded to the martial-arts craze with the still-going-strong Iron Fist and the superb Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu series, the best DC could come up with were books starring Karate Kid and this guy, a Westerner-turned-kung-fu master whose origin tale makes a paint-by-numbers set look like a Jackson Pollock painting by comparison. Hedging their bets, DC also tried to jump on the super-spy bandwagon, having Mr. Dragon (apparently his actual birth name) traipse around the world in the service of G.O.O.D. fighting such villains as Slash the Pirate, Preying Mantis, Professor Ojo and evil industrialist Guano Cravat. You’ll notice none of those names appear anywhere else in Who’s Who. C-

Riddler
Tough one. As a lot of comedians have already noted, his gimmick of sending Batman clues about upcoming crime sprees in the form of riddles is pretty stupid when you think about it: “conditioned reflex” or not, you don’t tip off the world’s greatest detective to what you’re planning if you want to stay un-caught. Then there’s the silly name-as-destiny moniker (Edward Nigma, or E. Nigma if you prefer), plus the fact he doesn’t have any super-powers or real purpose for existing other than giving Batman an excuse to show off how good he is at solving riddles. On the other hand, you’ve got to give him points for persistence, and he’s proven to be a versatile member of Batman’s troupe, from Frank Gorshin’s over-the-top turn to TAS’s more muted game designer with a grudge. For my money, though, the best take on the character was Robert Englund’s Riddler in The Batman: flamboyant with the riddles, yes, but always with a purpose, and never the purpose you might think. So, averaging all incarnations together, B-

Rip Hunter, Time Master
First, his name really is Rip (short for Ripley), and that’s just cool. Second, he built a time machine to earn his doctorate, which is a helluva lot more than any of us ever did to earn a degree. Third, he believed in preparation, inventing an “Encyclo-Matic” and speech-translation disks on the side to help his team in their travels through time. Plus, Hunter and his team properly adhered to Kirby’s First Law of Adventure Team Membership by including a Leader, Strong Guy/Back-Up Leader, Girl and Kid Brother. On the other hand… for someone with a functioning time machine, he didn’t really do a lot with it before showing up in Booster Gold’s second book. “Making time journeys to clear up historical puzzles” sounds fun and all, but I’m more interested in The Mystery of Next Week’s Powerball Numbers, know what I’m saying? Then again, this entry does mention how Rip appears to be independently wealthy… C

Robin I
Just so no one gets confused, this is the Golden Age Robin who first appeared back in 1938 and lived on Earth-2 until that whole Crisis on a Bunch of Earths thing. Robin II is listed under Nightwing, and Robin III is Jason Todd. Got it? Good, because none of it matters anymore. Robin I’s origin is exactly the same as Robin II, the only difference being the Robin I Dick Grayson grew up, became a lawyer and joined the JSA when Batman went into semi-retirement. Then he got killed saving the world, leaving us with one less Robin (and lawyer) to worry about. Which is a real shame…

Robin III
…in the sense that he didn’t take this Robin with him. When he was first introduced, Jason Todd was like both Dick Graysons in every way, right down to the dead circus parents. Eventually, DC realized how bullshit that sounded, and Todd was later retconned into an angry street kid who first came to the Batman’s attention when he tried to boost the Batmobile’s tires. So of course Batman took him home, tarted him up as Robin, trained him, showed him how to wax his legs, the whole nine yards. Didn’t matter, though, as readers voted to off the punk in a phone-in poll taken two years after this entry was written. And that’s the last time anyone ever heard from him. He’s kicked the bucket, shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible. This is, as they say, an ex-Robin. Yep, he’s all dead and nobody has ever thought of bringing him back. Nope, nope, nope. LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!! Robin I: C+, Robin III: D

Robotman I
I have to admit, this was a pretty ballsy concept for DC to put out there back in the Golden Age. At a time when most superheroes were variations on either the strange-visitor-from-elsewhere or bored-playboy-in-tights models, here was a hero with a tinge of horror to him: a scientist building a mechanical body is killed and horrified to learn his assistant placed his brain inside the mechanical body (which raises the question of what, exactly, the scientist was building the robot for, if not for this very purpose). He later had to go to court to prove he wasn’t someone else’s property, much like Data in that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. You know, the one where Picard makes a speech. B-

Robotman II
“Cliff Steele’s body, except for his brain, was destroyed by fire in a racing car accident.” How the hell does that happen? Lucky for him the guy heading the Doom Patrol just happened to be nearby with a robot body ready and waiting for a brain just his size. Yep, quite the co-inky-dink, that was. I wonder if anyone checked Steele’s brake line before the race started? C+

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Rose and the Thorn I
A Golden Age villain who tangled with the Golden Age Flash, she was a botanist with a split personality so severe her hair changed color when her evil side took over. No, I don’t know how that works, either. She also married the Golden Age Green Lantern before running off and giving birth to twins who would grow up to become two members of a superhero team no one cares about. Artwork is by a young fellow who goes by the name Todd McFarlane, who was clearly in the formative stages of his cape fetish when he drew this entry. I predict big things for him someday. C

Rose and the Thorn II
Much like the first Rose and Thorn, she’s a woman (first name Rose, natch) with a split personality, the main difference being she sleepwalks at night as the violent vigilante known as the Thorn, with neither personality aware of the other’s existence. Her adventures in dissociative disorders began when her cop father was killed and she took up residence in his brownstone. “Sleepwalking, she went through a secret door that she had discovered as a child and entered an abandoned costume shop,” where she found a costume and weapons designed years before by a criminal tailor “as part of his aborted scheme to turn a woman he knew into a costumed criminal.” And what luck, the boots and outfit she found were just her size, too! I’m going to go out on a limb and say I bet these events never happened to anyone reading this page. C+

Rostov
Nice man-pelt, Rostov. Figures you’re a guy who moonlights (nyuk nyuk!) as a werewolf. He’s a former lover of Mariah who followed her to the other-dimensional world of Skartaris, and ended up staying there. Man, for a place that’s supposed to be not of this world, it sure seems easy for us Earthlings to find this place. And we never seem to want to leave when we get there, either. My advice to any Skartarians reading this: stay clear of any humans who show up on your doorstep with blankets. Just trust me on this one. C

Roving Ranger
Okay, I’m not an expert on the Old West or anything,  so I don’t know if law enforcement officials literally wore tin stars on their chest. But I’m almost positive no one wore a star shaped like a satanic pentagram. Jeff Graham (which, let’s be honest, is one of the least manly names attached to a fictional cowboy) was a Texas Ranger… and that’s it. Really, even the writer wasn’t sure why this guy was included in the Who’s Who lineup. How do I know this? Check out the last line in his very sparse bio: “His horse-raising skills were also above average and proved important in his career.” Yes, I would say they did. D

Royal Flush Gang
I don’t need to say any more than that, do I? You’re already picturing Ace, King, Queen, Jack and Ten tangling with the Justice League, or the Teen Titans, or the Batman from Batman Beyond, or whichever heroes you first saw them go up against. Versatility is the key here; not only are they visually striking villains who can work against any combination of heroes, but their membership, powers and M.O. have also varied over time, depending on the story’s needs. And it’s all good, as long as readers see what they came to see: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, Ten. Not among the A-list of super-villains, true, but sometimes all you really need is a reliable antagonist to kick-start the festivities… and this gang can accomplish that royally, and then some. B

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Roy Raymond, TV Detective
How cool is Roy Raymond, TV Detective? I’ll tell you how cool. He’s so cool he can break the fourth wall just by leaning against the side of his own panel. That’s how cool he is. Created in a time when pipe-smoking dudes in sports jackets were gods among men, Raymond was a big-time network star from the 1950s who solved crimes and exposed frauds on his show. He gets a great rendition here by the always-solid José Luis García-López, which makes up for the silliness in the bio about him getting kidnapped and his brain waves used against his will to reshape the world. Geez, DC, would it kill you to leave just one of the norms in your world alone for five minutes? B-