Making the Grade: Who’s Who, Vol. III

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What’s this? Another Saturday is upon us already? You know what that means, gang — it’s time for fun facts and lame jokes at the expense of Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe. This week, Volume Eye-Eye-Eye, from Black Lightning to Byth.

Let’s start with a look at the wraparound cover, another fine George Pérez production. It gives you a real sense of how much DC has changed since 1985, doesn’t it? Back then, Blue Devil was the highest-profile character in this volume, hence the reason he got the prime “next to the index” spot on the front cover, whereas future Suicide Squad star/Arrow guest-villain Bronze Tiger and Justice League staple Blue Beetle were put on the back cover to cavort with the likes of Brain Storm and Bouncing Boy.

Hee! “Cavort.” Such a fun word to say.

Onward!

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Black Lightning
Black Lightning — a street-smart dude who makes it out of the ghetto and returns to his old ‘hood to teach inner-city kids —  was pretty much what you’d expect from a black superhero in the socially conscious ’70s. What floors me is the name given to the neighborhood our high-voltage hero hails from: “Growing up in Metropolis’s Suicide Slum, Jefferson Pierce watched as his family struggled to make ends meet.” I’m guessing the local merchants’ association promoted another name for the area, “Sunnyside Heights” or some such. B

Black Manta
I’m torn on Black Manta. On the one hand, he uses sunken treasure and bio-engineered manta-men to help build an undersea kingdom for all the oppressed black people who can’t catch a break on land, and the blue-eyed cracker who rules 7/10ths of the world’s surface doesn’t seem to be down with the idea of “those people” moving into his neighborhood. So you can see where Black Manta might be coming from with his anger issues. On the other hand, he’s the guy who killed Aquaman’s infant son, which is — and I cannot stress this enough — major uncool. Tough call, so let’s go with a gentleman’s C.

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Black Orchid

Height: unknown. Weight: unknown. Eyes: unknown. Hair: unknown. Family: unknown. Alter ego: unknown. Powers: unknown. Why she fights crime: unknown. But we know she’s a master of disguise, so let’s enjoy all these head shots of attractive ladies courtesy of Terry Austin. So pretty… B

Black Pirate
So apparently pirate comics were a thing back in the day. Who knew? Jon Valor was a 16th-century British lord who desired to see justice done, so he… assembled a crew of buccaneers, put on a mask and called himself the Black Pirate. Yeeeeeah… not really following how you got there, Jon. Later, his son followed in his footsteps and became a Puritan pirate, raiding British ships to fund a Puritan settlement in America. Is anyone else having a problem with the concept of a Puritan pirate? I’m picturing guys with earrings and belt-buckle hats saying “Arrr!” and using big curvy swords to cut a Thanksgiving turkey, and I gotta say it’s not working for me. D+

Black Racer
He’s a quadraplegic Vietnam vet who moonlights as a messenger of death, soaring through the stars on a pair of “cosmically powered celestial skis.” Pop quiz: who dreamed him up? (a) a Scandinavian frat boy on a dare (b) a DC intern smoking some primo weed or (c) Jack Kirby. Three guesses, and the first two don’t count. B

Blackrock
This guy is a pre-Crisis Superman villain who didn’t make the post-Crisis cut, and for good reason. Peter Silverstone worked for a TV network competing against GBS, which owned The Daily Planet and therefore got all the hot Superman scoops. One day, the head of his network ordered him to come up with a superhero they could claim as their own. Silverstone created the Blackrock costume and, for no goddamned reason whatsoever, hypnotized the network president into wearing the suit and sent him off to fight Superman. Why? Comics, that’s why. Later, he donned the suit himself because he ran out of ideas for inventions and decided it was the perfect tool for breaking into places and stealing other peoples’ inventions. Because apparently there’s no market in the DC universe for a hand-held “power stone” that causes illusions and enables instant teleportation via television signals. Why? Comics, that’s why. D-

Black Spider
Kind of like DC’s evil mirror-universe version of Spider-Man, Black Spider was a drug addict who accidentally killed his own father while committing a robbery. Insane with remorse, he kicked his drug habit and accepted help from a “mysterious source” who equipped him with tools and training to prey on drug dealers. Why a spider, you ask? Because, as his bio tells us, he intended to prey on “criminal super-flies.” Right on, brother! B-

Blackstarr
Paul Kupperberg has balls of bronze, I’ll give him that. This Supergirl foe was a Jewish Holocaust survivor who came out of the war believing Hitler was right — Sure! Happens all the time! — and founded the neo-Nazi Party for Social Reform. And then, in her spare time, she unlocked the secrets of the Unified Field Theory, allowing her to tap into the primal forces of the universe and throw miniature black holes at people who pissed her off. I suppose there’s something symbolic about how the powers unleashed by a self-loathing hate-monger ended up destroying her from the inside, but I’m still trying to figure out how she decided a flying blonde girl was the only one who could thwart her obviously well-laid plans. D

Blockbuster
Now we’re getting back to basics. A wimpy scientist who desires a stronger body, Mark Desmond drinks an experimental serum that turns him into a giant, but also reduces his mental capacity to near-mindless levels. Okay, do they just not have mice and Guinea pigs in the DC universe? Or is a world full of rampaging man-bats, lizard-men, and Hulk rip-offs what those PETA people have really been plotting all this time? C

Blok
Starting around the late 1970s, the writers of the Legion of Super-Heroes brought in some diversity by adding non-humanoid members to the mix. It wasn’t a bad idea; there’s no reason to assume every sentient species in the 30th century has to have the same anatomical configuration as us Earthlings, and comics don’t have the budget constraints that would limit the number of non-humanoid cast members that can regularly appear on a TV show. The problem with Blok is that he’s ever so dull. He’s a strong guy from a race of rock-people who starts out thinking the Legion is bad, realizes they’re good, and joins the team to provide a stream of “stranger in a strange land” commentary. Yawn. Plus, he “completed physical combat training (adapted to his physiology) with undistinguished results,” which suggests even the person writing this bio wasn’t too impressed by him. D+

Blue Beetle
Blue Beetle is the first of a few ex-Charlton characters we’re going to meet in these reviews; DC bought the rights to them shortly before publishing its Who’s Who series, so at his point in time there’s nothing in Beetle’s bio about his years with the Justice League, his involvement with the Birds of Prey, or his big death scene during one of those “crisis” events I can never keep straight. Nope, just the origin basics here: after Ted Kord and his archaeologist buddy go to Pago Island to stop Kord’s crazy uncle and his world-conquering androids, Kord honors his dead friend — who reveals he’s a superhero shortly before expiring — by taking on his friend’s superhero name and crime-fighting mission. Which he does by riding around in a giant flying bug and using a strobe light as a weapon. And suddenly that whole Giffen “BWHA-HA-HA” era makes a lot more sense. C

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Blue Devil

A great character who deserves a much higher profile, Blue Devil started out as Dan Cassidy, your average stuntman/special effects artist who created the Blue Devil suit for a movie. While filming on location in a jungle, he pisses off the wrong demon and ends up magically fused with his suit, becoming a living, breathing seven-foot-tall blue devil who suddenly attracts every alien, robot and wingnut super-villain on the West Coast. I bet his union raised a big stink about that. B+

Bolt
Every comic fan has their favorite super-villain. A lot of us go with an obvious choice, like the Joker or Lex Luthor, but you can always find a few holdouts who reserve a soft spot for a lesser-known villain, like Rainbow Raider or the Ten-Eyed Man. But I’m willing to bet no one — and I mean NO ONE — feels anything for Bolt. He’s a hired assassin with no backstory, a profoundly stupid costume and mysterious bolt-hurling/teleporting powers that are never explained. Not even putting him in a Blue Devil story makes him anything near interesting. I don’t even know why I’m still talking about him. D-

Bouncing Boy
Man, do a lot of people like to hate on this guy. And to be fair, he gives them a lot to work with, from the dumb power (inflating into a super-bouncy sphere) to the ridiculous origin (30th-century errand boy mistakes a scientist’s experimental super-plastic fluid for a refreshing beverage) to his appointment as the Legion’s “morale officer” (translation: “give the moron a bullshit job that doesn’t involve pushing any buttons”). But think about this: while you’ve spent your time reading comic books and/or bad jokes about 30-year-old comic books, ol’ Chuck Taine wooed and wedded Duo Damsel, and now enjoys a threesome any night of the week. Who’s the moron now, huh? B-

Boy Commandos
Time again to bring out our War Comic Central Casting Stereotype Checklist, Junior Division. Lantern-jawed leader with manly name? Check (“Rip Carter”). Handsome, suave French soldier boy? Check. Jolly fat kid? Check. Doe-eyed Dutch kid with pageboy haircut? Check. Rope-spinning cowboy type named Tex? Check. Bespectacled genius with nerdy name? Check. Tough-talking, derby-wearing, street-smart kid from Brooklyn? Check. Reader wondering how the hell this was remotely entertaining or plausible even back in the Forties? Check. D

Brain
The Doom Patrol was known for having the oddest bunch of villains in its gallery of rogues, and the Brain was definitely one of the weirder ones. He was a French scientist who gave a gorilla super-intelligence and instructed him in how to remove his brain from his dying body and place it inside what looks like a combination chess piece and Masters of the Universe Castle Grayskull playset. Why? So he could continue with his plans to rule the world, duh. To that end, he also assembled the Brotherhood of Evil, and I have to admit I respect that. A lot of evil, world-conquering types would try to soft-pedal their plans for evil, if only to mollify the anti-evil demographic, but he puts the “evil” right there in his group’s name. You don’t have to be in favor of evil to admire that spirit of forthrightness. B+

Brainiac
Not the lime-Jello-hued, who-wears-short-shorts version, this Brainiac is the Terminator-with-fishbowl-cranium model that debuted just in time to make it into the Kenner Super Powers lineup of action figures as the inexplicably high-kicking villain. As a Superman villain, he’s perfectly serviceable; I’m more impressed by his status as the only super-villain who’s also a common nickname for intelligent nerdy types. You never hear someone say, “Hey, Sivana! Give me your lunch money!” or “Why you readin’ that big book, huh? What are you, some kinda Doc Ock?” That, people, is called branding. B-

Brainiac 5
I don’t think it’s any great revelation that comic nerds, on the whole, have a soft spot for brainy characters. Sure, Kirk gets the alien tail and kick-ass fight scenes, but it’s Spock who wins the hearts of fans simply because “being smarter than everyone else” is a quality that a lot of sci-fi and comic nerds have no problem imagining themselves possessing. But here’s the thing: while being the smartest member of the club can be great because you always have the answers and people will often look to you as the de facto leader and you get away with being a dick because everyone knows you’re too valuable to kick off the team… in Brainiac 5’s case, you have to balance all that with (a) being responsible for unleashing a deadly computer that killed one of your teammates (b) occasional bouts of insanity caused by the inability to come to grips with the fact that you can’t solve every problem and (c) the fact that “intelligence” does not always correlate with “heightened fashion sense,” as evidenced by his hideous purple-jumpsuit-on-green-skin-with-yellow-boots ensemble. That notwithstanding, he’s still far and above any other member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Especially that Sun Boy douche. A

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Brain Storm
I’m sorry, but it’s a goddamn insult to even consider putting Brain Storm on a page opposite Brainiac 5. Where to begin? The shoulder-fins outfit and pencil mustache that make him look like Vincent Price doing a cameo in a live-action adaptation of The Jetsons? The idea that a scientist studying the science of inspiration concluded that “brain storms” were caused by bursts of stellar energy, and sought a way to harness that energy? The fact he attacked the Justice League only because he thought they killed his brother, even though he was the one who accidentally teleported his brother to France? The fact that, even after that misunderstanding was cleared up, he continued to go up against the Justice League despite having no good reason for doing so? The fact he invented a hover-chair and couldn’t think of any way but super-villainy to make money off it? The fact he wears a thing on his head that looks like it came from a line of official Doctor Who sex toy merchandise? D-

Brain Wave
Don’t let the enlarged cranium and cerebral-sounding nom de guerre fool you; there is no indication in his bio that Brain Wave is any more intelligent than your average super-villain. If nothing else, the fact he’s dressed in one of Gargamel’s hand-me-down robes should make it clear his fashion sense is no more highly developed than anyone else. No, this Golden Age villain was short, slender, bald, had a big chip on his shoulder, and possessed the mutant power to project realistic illusions with his mind. Which explains how someone who looks like Sivana’s uglier brother hooked up with a sweet-looking super-heroine. C-

Brainwave Jr.
With most second-generation heroes, especially those with super-villain parents, you get some attempt to carve your own identity; think Robin choosing to become Nightwing instead of Batman Jr. But then you have Henry (Hank) King, Jr., who decided not only to call himself Brainwave Jr. after his villainous father, but “donned an altered version of one of his father’s sometime costumes” to stop him from altering the course of World War II. Real original there, Hank. I dunno, maybe there was a “redeeming the family name” thing here — and to be fair, it is pretty touching how he turned his father away from the dark side while the old man was dying, inheriting some nifty mental powers in the deal — but on the whole: meh. C-

Breathtaker
Here’s your after-school anti-bullying PSA for the day: abandoned by his parents and tormented by his peers over his freakish appearance, an albino dwarf builds an exoskeleton, don a crimson robe and becomes head of the Assassination Bureau, a high-priced hit man service, “to return a thousandfold the fear and terror he had known.” Everything was coming up Milhouse for him until he tangled with a superhero who really shouldn’t have needed more than five seconds to deal with an unarmed dwarf on stilts, but Firestorm was never the sharpest proton in the atomic pile. D+

Bronze Tiger
Reasons why Bronze Tiger is a badass: (1) he’s one of the world’s greatest living martial artists; (2) the background art shows him taking a flying leap at Batman; (3) it also shows him wearing one earring, which meant something back before every eighth-grade poser sported one; (4) he was once a member, albeit under duress, of the League of Assassins. League of Assassins, the Assassination Bureau — do you think there’s a lot of competition between assassination agencies in the DC universe? Do you think assassins go to career fairs and look at the benefits packages offered by each outfit, and sometimes the decision comes down to whoever offers the better dental plan? Anyway. Bronze Tiger. He’s one bad mother–shut your mouth. A-

Broot
Irony alert! Despite his name, Broot is actually a gentle pacifist — or at least he was until he killed one of his peoples’ alien slave-masters in response to the murder of his child. Appalled by his sudden burst of rudeness towards their genocidal overlords, his ultra-religious people exiled him from their peace-loving planet and he joined the Omega Men to fight for justice throughout the galaxy. I’m sure there’s some allegory about Earth religions going on here, but I’m still trying to figure out where the hell this “Broot” moniker came from. His given name is Charis-Nar, people; it’s right there in his bio. C

Brother Blood
According to his bio, this Teen Titans foe’s greatest power “is his incredible charisma,” which sounds like a really shitty power until you find out he has powerful and high-ranking officials in every country, ready to act on his command. He’s also got a sweet country all to himself, a little piece of Balkan paradise called Zandia where succession is handled by having the son slay the father and assume the title of Brother Blood whenever the kid decides it’s time for the old man to go. That must make for some interesting family gatherings. “Dad, how are you feeling? Any aches and pains? No heart problems? Mind if I pop some paper bags when you least expect it just to make sure?” “Go to hell, son.” B-

Brotherhood of Evil
This was a gathering of the Doom Patrol’s greatest arch-enemies. They teamed up for hot world-dominating action, and boy howdy did they look the part. If I were a novice superhero and I found myself facing an Uzi-toting gorilla, a brain in a frowning jar, a corpulent alien conqueror, an Annie Lennox look-alike/spandex fetishist, another refugee from a BDSM trade show, and a walking pile of flesh-melting barf, I’d be wetting my shorts faster than a speeding bullet. Their biggest achievement: blowing up the four members of the original Doom Patrol, which might have been a little more impressive if any of the four had actually stayed dead over the years. Ah well. A toast… to evil! B

Brother Power
There is nothing I can write that would improve upon the awesomeness of this character, so here’s his bio in its entirety (click for larger image):

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Run, don’t walk, to your nearest comic-dispensing establishment and demand the book that promises stories about the grooviest golem and Congressional candidate you’ll ever meet as he explores “the Real-Life Scene of the Dangers in HIPPIE-LAND!” You’ll be glad you did. A

Bug-Eyed Bandit
Sigh. Okay. Let’s pretend you’re an entomologist who’s also a bit of a robotics whiz. Further, let’s pretend that, for whatever reason, you decide to steal the capital you need to bring your designs to life. In addition, let’s pretend you decide to go all the way with the super-villain plan, and you use the robot bugs built with your ill-gotten gains to steal even more money while you ply your trade in the hometown of a hero (the Atom) who — let’s face it — is not that serious a threat to your health. After all that work and meticulous planning, the only thing missing is a kick-ass name that inspires fear and respect when people hear it. So naturally you go with… the Bug-Eyed Bandit??? Seriously??? D

Bug & Byte
These two Firestorm villains were conceived at a time when personal computers were just starting to show up in people’s homes and they still had this magical aura about them (“It holds three entire pages of recipes on a floppy disk? Outrageous!”). So naturally it was just a matter of time before someone swapped out “radioactive arachnid” and plugged “computer-related mishap” into their Super-Powers Mad Libs Origin Generator. After touching a computer’s exposed wires and experiencing thousands of volts of electricity coursing through their bodies, this brother-and-sister pair would — surprise! — find that one of them had the power to become electricity while the other could literally inhabit computer systems. So what do they do with these newfound, not-entirely-unimpressive powers? Attack the mommy whom they thought had abandoned them long ago. Barf. D

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B’wana Beast

B’wana Beast has gained a small bit of fame in recent years as the go-to character whenever a modern-day DC cartoon wants to poke fun at those cah-raaazy Silver Age years. Teen Titans Go!, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Justice League Unlimited — they’ve all taken shots at this guy, putting him in cameos and winking at viewers while saying, “Can you believe the shit they came up with back then?” But let’s review. He was conceived at a time when African adventure stories were enjoying a bump in popularity, and he was one of the very few DC characters developed in response to that fad. He’s got the same animal telepathy powers as Aquaman (only with all creatures, not just the wet ones) and he’s the only hero I know of who has the power to combine any two animals into a Wuzzle-type beast for his immediate needs. He’s also the only hero out there who fights evil while wearing a loincloth and funky helmet. Say what you want about the guy, but he’s an original, and ain’t nobody gonna take that away from him. B

Byth
He’s a thief from the planet Thanagar who steals a pill that gives him the ability to control his molecular structure, allowing him to turn into any animal he can think of. Science! And suddenly I have this irrational anger towards Flintstones vitamins for doing jack shit for me all those years. I mean, sure, a growing body needs its zinc, but how the hell does that score me a Who’s Who entry? C+

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