Making the Grade: Who’s Who, Vol. II

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Wait, has it been a whole week already? Why, yes it has! Time once again for a look at every ’80s DC fanboy’s bible, Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe. This week, Volume Eye-Eye, from Automan to Blackhawk Island. HAW-KAAAAAAAAAAA!

First, though, let’s marvel at the wraparound cover, courtesy of George Pérez. One of the many reasons he was an in-demand artist in the ’80s was his knack for drawing beautiful women, and this cover is no exception. We get gorgeous renderings here of Beautiful Dreamer, Batgirl, Big Barda — heck, even Blackfire looks fetching while trying to avoid Bizarro’s freefall into the frame. Oh, Bizarro. You do have the cure for the daily blues.

Onward!

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Automan
Not, as one might suspect, a superhero with a bitchin’ ride, Automan was Robot #32198, a “robot for hire” who hung out in one of DC’s more Jetsons-esque strips. He went to Robot Tech U.! He weighed 543 lbs.! He survived to see the far-out, futuristic 21st century and life-bonded with a secretary robot! We were totally lame for loving his stuff, and we didn’t care. C

Azrael
“Azrael’s origin is a mystery, even to Azrael himself… Azrael possesses no memory of his former life, his planet of origin, his mission in space or his true name.” But we know for sure he weighs 285 lbs., including his wings. Thanks for clearing that up, DC! C-

Babe
A gentle giant with the mind of a child — mainly because he is a child — Babe is an alien member of Atari Force from the planet Egg. No, really, that’s what it says here. He comes from a species where children increase their bulk until they reach adulthood, at which point they become sentient mountains, forever confounding off-worlders who wonder how, exactly, they can make babies given their immense size and lack of mobility. Insert your own “lazy Americans” joke here. C-

Balloon Buster
You know, if I were the First World War equivalent of Maverick from Top Gun, I think I might be a little pissed when people called me Balloon Buster. It sounds like what you’d call the meanest kid at a five-year-old’s birthday party. “Whether or not Savage survived the First World War, and thus his current whereabouts, is at present unknown.” I’m going to go with “likely dead by now” on his one. B-

Baron Bedlam
With a name like that, it’s pretty obvious “daycare operator” and “physician with Doctors Without Borders” were off his list of career options. Baron Bedlam was the archenemy of Geo-Force and the Outsiders, and he let nothing stop him from carrying out his insane plot to make the world care about Geo-Force and the Outsiders. His occupation is listed as “financier/insurrectionist” — apparently there was a time when those two words didn’t mean the same thing. C-

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Baron Blitzkrieg

I frickin’ love this guy. First, he’s got the whole “super-Nazi Iron Man” thing going for him, and tell me that’s not awesome. Second, check out his origin tale; after a concentration camp prisoner threw acid in a young commandant’s face, Hitler himself ordered the Reich’s top surgeons to fix the guy’s face: “Hoping to compensate for his facial features, Hitler had his scientists execute a long-developed plan that tapped the commandant’s latent psychic powers.” I love how that’s written; it’s like they had this plan for tapping his latent psychic powers just lying around and forgot about it until the day he came into the operating room needing some emergency plastic surgery and someone shouted, “Hey, guys! Remember that plan we had for tapping this guy’s latent psychic powers, and then forgot about it? We should totally do that!A-

Baron Winter
Baron Winter gets on my bad side by ruining my “all comic book barons are automatically evil” theory, but on the other hand he is a dick. His occupation is listed as “searches out evil for a fee,” which must be fun explaining to his accountant. Never seen outside his mansion in Washington, D.C., Winter enlists others — many of them unwilling participants duped into aiding him and scarred for life by what they’ve seen — in his battles against malevolent forces. Some days the political jokes just write themselves, don’t they? B

The Barren Earth
(Star Wars x Battlestar Galactica) + Dune(2)/Barbarella… To say the “Barren Earth” strip from the Warlord comic, depicting a far-off future of humans and lizard-men wandering a baked planet, was derivative of other sci-fi franchises popular at the time is an understatement on par with “the Pacific Ocean can be somewhat damp at times.” But at least Ron Randall knows how to draw a good set of gams. C-

Batcave
Bruce Wayne’s high-tech hidey-hole is a big part of the Batman mythology, and I can appreciate that. It just bugs me that we’re all supposed to believe one rich guy and his butler were able to do all the work needed to build a fully functioning crime lab, workshop, trophy room, garage, computer mainframe, camouflaged exit door and Bat-plane hangar inside an underground cave. For crying out loud, it takes me the better part of an afternoon just to build an IKEA bookshelf, and I’m not in a mad rush to go out and start hassling lawbreakers. My favorite part: the mountaintop tubes that eject “clouds” as a way of concealing the hollow mountaintop’s opening and closing when the Bat-copter takes off. Because tubes sticking out the side of a mountain? Totally inconspicuous. B

Batgirl
The Who’s Who series came out pre-Killing Joke and hence the Batgirl entry leaves out the part of Barbara Gordon’s history that makes her, well, interesting. Sorry to say, but it’s true. And I think one of the bigger mistakes of the New 52 relaunch was putting her back on her own two feet. The Batgirl seen here no doubt adequately served that portion of the nerd populace turned on by librarians/former congresswomen/martial-arts experts/motorcycle riders in high heels, but I’ll take Ms. Gordon during her Oracle days anytime. C

Bat Lash
Okay, writers. I’m fine with listing “professional gambler” as an occupation, but “wanted outlaw”…? That’s more of an inconvenient life situation, if anything. It’s like listing “on the no-fly list” as your vocation. Anyway: Bartholomew Aloysius Lash was your typical wrongfully accused Old West drifter who just happened to be a lovable rogue and ladies’ man, the kind of guy Matthew McConaughey might be tapped to play in a Bat Lash adaptation commissioned to make us forget that Jonah Hex film ever existed. His entry lists him as an “accomplished bar brawler,” which sounds suspect to me. How does one measure accomplishment in the field of bar brawling? How many brawls must a person take part in to be considered accomplished? Is there a governing body that oversees bar brawl rankings? Are there sponsorships? Tournaments? Draft picks? B

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Batman I

Things noticed while perusing the Golden Age Batman entry: (1) Damn, that Dave Gibbons can draw anything. (2) Bruce Wayne with a pipe and smoking jacket? Out-rageous! (3) He went from listing “millionaire playboy” to “police commissioner” as his occupation when Gordon retired, a career switch that was apparently perfectly logical to Gothamites who had no clue about his nighttime gig. (4) After marrying a reformed Catwoman, he gained a brother-in-law named Karl Kyle. I’m really not a fanboy about a lot of things, but a Batman with a brother-in-law named Karl? No offence to all the fine Karls out there,  but that ain’t right. A

Batman II
Same as Batman I, only without the pipe, marriage, brother-in-law or career change. There’s a bit about how he quit the Justice League “in a philosophical dispute over justice and the law,” which led to him forming the Outsiders, so… yeah. There’s also a short note about how Bruce Wayne had just recently adopted Jason Todd, “another circus performer whose parents were murdered by the villainous Croc.” Two things: (1) I don’t think we need a “villainous” here; the double homicide speaks for itself and (2) Do you think Bruce kept things simple and had a standing order down at Child Services? “Hey, Marge, we just got another dark-haired circus orphan whose parents were violently killed and he has no other family who can take him in. Call that brooding rich guy and tell him he can pick up the kid out back.” A

Bat Equipment
I believe I saw someone say something about the items in Batman’s utility belt somewhere else. As for the rest of his gear: Bat-Boat: C+, Bat-Plane: B, Batmobile: A++++ (with an extra “+” for the Burton Batmobile that I got to stand next to at the Toronto Ex in the summer of ’89)

Bat-Mite
Okay, I get Mr. Mxyzptlk in a Superman story; most Superman stories (at least in the Silver Age) are basically Superman-as-God stories, with Superman displaying infinite powers and infinite patience and infinite everything else (as long as certain green rocks aren’t lying around). Mxyzptlk subverts all that by actually being God, in the sense he’s capricious, needs no real reason to mess with Superman other than he wants to, and can only be defeated with his own rules. So sticking him in a Superman story makes sense. By comparison, Bat-Mite is a magical fanboy who reminds readers how powerless an all-too-human Batman is when he’s forced to deal with someone who has magic powers. Thanks, but we knew that already. D

Batwoman
Not the Batwoman that modern-day readers might be more familiar with, this Batwoman is Kathy Kane, “socialite and circus owner” (Really? Are there a lot of high-society women who dabble in circus management?) who used an unexpected inheritance to build her own Batcave and fight crime because she thought it would be super keen to do what her idol did. Her “utility purse” contained such vital crime-fighting equipment as “sneezing powder puffs, tear gas perfume, an expandable high-tensile hairnet, smoke bomb lipstick and a periscope lipstick case.” This was all considered perfectly normal in the 1950s, but then so was lining crib sheets with asbestos. D+

Beautiful Dreamer
As if to help wash out the taste of the previous bit of pre-Steinem piffle, we get treated to four pages of sweet Kirby art. First up: this comely lass, the only distaff member of the Forever People, a group of kids who were the hippie pacifists in the war between Apokolips and New Genesis in Kirby’s Fourth World books (if you’re not familiar with these references, then fair warning it’s only going to get geekier from here). My, that dress she’s wearing is… snug, isn’t it? She has the power to “isolate images from the minds of others and give those images temporary form by creating frightening lifelike illusions.” Fine by me, but she probably doesn’t want to isolate any images in my mind right now. B+

Ben Boxer
A character from Kirby’s Kamandi series, he’s a scientist/walking atomic pile who can press a disc on his chest and create a flexible, indestructible metallic sheath over his body… and I mean all over his body. His entry explains how he doesn’t suffocate because a layer of air is trapped between his skin and the steel shell during the transformation, and I have to respectfully call bullshit on that. Forget about how little air there would be for him to breathe under a skintight steel shell; if that air stays trapped on the inside, then I don’t even want to think about what else stays in there, too. Especially after his second burrito. C

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Big Barda

Mmmm, yes. You’ll always have your fanboys who prefer Supergirl over Wonder Woman or Rogue over Storm, but me? I think Scott Free is one lucky bastard. Barda used to be a bad girl until Scott showed her the way to freedom; now they’re happily married and balancing domestic life with hectic schedules as gods and escape artists. Or at least they were the last time I checked; you never know at DC these days, where the happily married couples might as well shoot themselves in the head as soon as they say “I do” to save the writers the trouble. Her weapon of choice is her “mega-rod” and boy, I wouldn’t mind introducing her to my… oh right, like you weren’t about to make the same obvious joke. B

Big Bear
At 6-foot-5, 250 lbs. and sporting a massive mane of red hair, Big Bear is sure to appeal to fans of… er, big bears. (For real, do you think Kirby knew about such things when he named this guy?) There’s some scientific gobbledygook involving “high-density atoms” that’s supposed to explain how this member of the Forever People packs a mighty punch, but really, DC. You should leave that kind of stuff to Marvel and its handbooks, where Lockjaw’s doghouse gets three pages of blueprints and cutaway diagrams. B-

Big Sir
Jesus in a bouillabaisse, what the hell was DC thinking when they greenlit this goober? I know it’s wrong to call things you don’t like “retarded,” but that doesn’t apply here because this is a Flash villain who is literally retarded. And that’s just so wrong on so many levels. Dufus P. Ratchet (yes, really) was born with a malfunctioning pituitary gland that grew his body to monstrous proportions while keeping his mind at the level of an eight-year-old. So naturally, a bunch of Flash’s rogues doll Dufus up in special armor, convince him that Flash killed a small animal, and send him rampaging against a man who could reach in and vibrate his heart to pieces if he was so inclined. Next up: an infant with an Uzi bolted to its stroller is sent rolling down a hill to fight Batman. D-

Bizarro
How am you not love Bizarro? Him am king of Bizarro World! Him do opposite of everything Superman does… except when it comes to having the hots for Lois lane, because even he’s not stupid enough not to try and tap that. Fortunately for Lois, she was able to crank out an imperfect duplicate of herself thanks to a comic-book professor’s machine that just happens to CREATE LIFE FROM LIFELESSNESS HOLY CRAP WHY DIDN’T ANYONE IN METROPOLIS ACT A LITTLE MORE IMPRESSED BY THIS… ahem. Anyway, the B-man and his false hate then not go to very close planet to not live their miserable non-lives apart. Or something. You get the idea. B

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Bizarro World

Speaking of which. Did you know it was mostly populated by duplicates of Superman and Lois Lane after the first two got lonely and wanted more like them? And that they aimed their magical interstellar duplicating ray at Earth and churned out more duplicates of all their Daily Planet friends and members of the Justice League? And that one of the Bizarro JLAers was Yellow Lantern, who wore a candle symbol on his chest and had a ring that ran out of power after 24 hours? You didn’t? Don’t you feel better now that you do? C-

Black Bison
Conceptually, I think this idea’s a winner: “modern Native American possessed by vengeful spirit of his ancestor” is a good hook for a sympathetic super-villain, and fertile ground for some thoughtful social commentary. It’s the execution of the idea here that’s less than ideal. First, regardless of what certain NFL franchises would have us believe, Native Americans don’t have red skin, and the colorist for this image should rethink their skin tone choices here (fun fact: Crayola’s “Indian Red” was renamed “Chestnut” all the way back in… 1999. Progress!). Second, this entry talks about “ancient Indian forms of the martial arts” and how John Ravenhair was possessed by his great-grandfather’s spirit to “avenge the white man’s many injustices against his people”… but exactly which “his people” are we talking about? Ojibwa? Cree? Apache? Iroquois? Haida? Hopi? Because filing all  pre-Columbian tribes and peoples in North America under “I” for “Indian” and assigning them one avenging spirit to fight back in the name of all the injustices heaped upon them… well, you can see the problem here. As a concept, B+; for execution, C-

Blackbriar Thorn
Filling the essential “mad Druid priest” niche in the super-villain ecosystem, Blackbriar Thorn was part of an ancient British cult slaughtered by invading Roman armies; he survived the attack by turning himself into wood in a forest and hoping the soldiers would pass him by. Good thing the soldiers didn’t feel like starting a bonfire to celebrate their victory. As often happens with magic, things didn’t go as planned for Mr. Thorn and he fell into a mystical coma that lasted more than a thousand years, eventually waking up in modern-day Gotham City to discover his wooden nature was now a permanent thing. Oops. Known weaknesses: other forms of magic, Boy Scouts with flints, woodpeckers. C

Black Canary I/Black Canary II
All superhero comic fans can be divided into two groups: those who turn into Tex Avery cartoon wolves at the sight of Black Canary in her vintage black fishnet stockings, and those who do not. Me, I’m in the “not” category… most days. I dig the Birds of Prey Black Canary because she’s a straightforward concept — no-nonsense martial-arts master with sonic-cry gimmick — but holy crap that wasn’t always the case. Prior to DC’s cosmic housecleaning in the mid-’80s, there was a Black Canary on Earth-2 who had a child, but the child was cursed by a super-villain who transformed her cries into destructively sonic screams, so Black Canary and her husband shuffled the baby off to a “thunderbolt dimension” where she slept while growing into adulthood, and then years later a dying Black Canary had her memories transferred into her daughter’s comatose form so her now-grown child could start a new life on Earth-1 as the new Black Canary… yeah, makes total sense. A-

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Black Condor
Talk about the proverbial horseshoe stuck up your ass. When he was a baby, Richard Grey’s archaeologist parents were on an expedition in Mongolia when they were killed by Mongol warriors. Not so lucky, I know, but that’s okay! Because then an “unusually intelligent race of condors” found the boy and raised him! And then he discovered he had the mutant ability to fly! And then a hermit priest took him in and taught him the ways of the world! And then he went to America and took the identity of a secretly murdered U.S. senator who just happened to look exactly like him! Do you ever wonder if comic writers in the ’40s made a game out of just how far they could go with their batshit origin stories? D

Blackfire
The evil sister of the Teen Titans’ Starfire, hence “Blackfire.” Actually, her Tamaranean birth name is Komand’r, which worked out great for her since she grew up to become a military commander. No such luck for her sister, Koriand’r, who did not grow up to become a spice. B-

Black Hand
Prior to Geoff Johns butching him up for his Blackest Night crossover, minor Green Lantern foe Black Hand was known for two things: speaking in awful clichés and turning to crime as a way of dragging his family’s name through the mud. If I ever find out he later changed his name to Rob Ford and ran for mayor of Toronto, it would explain a lot about politics in my hometown. C-

Blackhawk
Pretty basic WWII origin story here: Polish-American patriot goes to join the Polish resistance when Germany attacks his ancestral homeland, then launches a one-man terror campaign against the Nazis. Sweet simplicity courtesy of the great Will Eisner. But what floors me is the background art on this page. Behind the full-body shot of Blackhawk, we’ve got a raven-haired beauty shooting a machine gun and a giant wheel with machine gun turrets flattening what looks like a barn. Hey, writers — want to maybe fill us in here? B

Blackhawks
Seven men. Alone on an island. All wearing leather. Spending half their time slathered in airplane grease. It’s a man’s world on Blackhawk Island, baby — not that there’s anything wrong with that. True to the standard configuration of teams in most comic-book war titles, each member brings his own national stereotype to the mix. Look! It’s Chop-Chop, the short Chinese man with the deadly kung-fu grip! And Chuck, the drawling Texan who loves a good old-fashioned brawl! And Andre, the dapper Frenchman with the pencil mustache and a lust for the ladies! And there’s Hendrickson, the walrus-mustached Dutchman who’s… um, really cheap on dates? If later incarnations didn’t include Gordie the excessively polite Canadian, I’ll be very disappointed. C+

Blackhawk Plane/Blackhawk Island
Of planes, I know nothing; you could tell me the Blackhawks’ custom-built planes got a thousand Orvilles to the hectometer and I’d just nod and smile. But the island illustration intrigues me, and I can hear the voice of an announcer from an ’80s action figure toy rattle off all the island’s features. “The new Blackhawk Island Adventure Play Set! With coastal defense batteries! Submarine pens! Long-range radar scanner! Docking facility! Administration and barracks building! New from Mattel!” Official bullshit line: “The island is not listed on any navigational charts, nor is its location known to any government.” Shyeah. Right. B-

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