Making the Grade: Who’s Who, Vol. IV

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Yes, it’s Saturday. And I’m not out living the dream once again. Big surprise. Ah well, might as well make some fun of 30-year-old comic characters by riffing on Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe. This week, Volume Eye-Vee, from Cadre to Chris KL-99.

Once again, the cover is a lovely tableau designed by George Pérez… and I’ve got to say I really like the approach DC took with its Who’s Who covers, giving the prime front cover real estate to higher-profile characters like Captain Marvel while presenting everyone in an interactive, gravity-free wonderland. It’s a fun and dynamic way of bringing together characters who might not otherwise have any interaction with each other (check out the deflected boomerang shot) — and it’s part of the reason why I preferred Who’s Who to Marvel’s concurrently published Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, where the covers mostly just featured characters flying and running from left to right in one long march.

Speaking of which: onward!

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Cadre

You know those comic-book teams that look like they were assembled from collections of random doodles in a kid’s sketchpad? Like there’s no rhyme or reason for bringing those characters together except to throw them against an established team as that month’s designated cannon fodder? Basically that. Blah blah blah powerful alien grants powers to random people and pits them against the Detroit-era Justice League “in a contest to determine the future of the human race.” Why? Shut up, that’s why. There’s no point in doing a roll call — no one here went on to bigger and better things — but I will single out Crowbar, the former street gang member whose favorite weapon is “transformed into an instrument of devastating power.” Sure, go ahead and rip off Marvel’s Wrecker, young fella — at least he wouldn’t be caught dead dressed like a rodeo fetishist’s cabana boy. D-

Cain
“An unnatural gift for storytelling” and “a slight malicious streak” are listed as powers for Cain, the caretaker at the House of Mystery. Appropriately, very little else is revealed in his bio. Not the most interesting of characters when not paired with his brother, and I’m guessing he was relieved when Gaiman called him up from the minors for his Sandman series. C

Calculator
As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of DC villains give you the impression their creators were inspired by whatever they saw lying around the office. “A criminal named the Eraser who ‘erases’ incriminating evidence for a fee? Julie, you’ve done it again!” The Calculator must have sounded like a cool, high-tech villain when he first appeared; it’s a shame he was saddled with the goofy M.O. of purposely losing to superheroes so he could “calculate” a way to avoid defeat the second time around. Even the writers seemed to know this was a lame gimmick; he later sported a special helmet and chest keypad that allowed him to create solid objects out of dust particles in the air. Recent years have seen him reinvented as a costume-less hacker/information broker to the super-villain community; it was definitely a step up. C-

Calendar Man
Still looking for proof comic writers use random office crap to come up with ideas? I give you Julian Day (get it?), the Batman villain who bases his crime sprees on things associated with the calendar: days of the week, seasons, major holidays, you name it. Like the Calculator, he’s another rogue who got an upgrade in recent years, in his case becoming more of a Hannibal Lecter-type killer. A tad grisly, perhaps, but when you start out as the guy who ran around Gotham City dressed like a New Year’s baby, anything else is a step up. C-

Camelot 3000
Okay, go find the collected edition of this 12-issue mini-series because holy crap, does Brian Bolland rock this two-page spread. This is one of the few titles with interior art by Bolland, and that alone is worth the price of admission. As for the story, it’s about King Arthur and his reincarnated knights returning in the year 3000 “at the time of England’s greatest need” — think Knights of the Round Table meets Rocket Robin Hood. There are a few interesting ideas here — like how not all the knights were reincarnated as Englishmen, or even as men for that matter — but on the whole, it’s justly remembered more for the art than the story. (So the United Nations is still around in 3000? Imagine that.) B-

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Captain Atom

Like Blue Beetle, Captain Atom was another recent acquisition by DC when Who’s Who came out, so we don’t get anything here about the very cool premise of Captain Atom’s origin story being kept a secret by the government. Here, his Charlton-era story — which his 1987 reboot would retain as the cover story the military used to fool the public — is simple enough: scientist gets trapped inside missile with atomic warhead and dies in massive explosion, but somehow pulls himself together (literally) to appear back on Earth as a nuclear power-wielding superhero. Not the most polished story — What exactly is a “molecular skeleton”? Wouldn’t someone at mission control notice he was missing? Wouldn’t he have suffocated inside the missile long before it exploded in space? — but you can easily imagine the public eating it up. “It should also be noted that the power surge that turns Captain Adam into Captain Atom also changes his normally brown hair into silver-white.” Well, my hair did that, too, but you don’t see me claiming super powers did it. B

Captain Boomerang
It is simply inconceivable to me how George “Digger” Harkness was able to become — and remain — one of the Flash’s most implacable foes. In one corner: a man who moves at the speed of light. In the other: a guy who throws curvy sticks. Having said that, it’s kind of cool how he started out as a toy company mascot — hence the colorful attire — and made a career transition into thievery and attempted homicide. It’s like finding out Geoffrey the Toys ‘R’ Us giraffe went into arson and drug smuggling. C+

Captain Carrot
If you liked Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, then you’ll love Captain Carrot. What, you don’t remember Hoppy? Shut up, you’re getting Captain Carrot. Rodney Rabbit (formerly “Roger Rabbit” until a certain mouse-fronted conglomerate came a-knockin’ with a cease-and-desist) was a meek cartoonist living in Earth-C’s “Gnu York City” (hyuk!) when a meteor chunk landed in his window box, irradiating the carrots growing in the dirt. When Rodney ate one of the glowing carrots, he was instantly transformed into… Captain Carrot! Standard funny animal-superhero fare, courtesy of Scott Shaw! And yes, that’s how he signs his name, “Scott Shaw!” Makes you wonder why other comic artists don’t do the same, doesn’t it? Imagine if more of them did; we could have signatures like “{George Peréz}” and “Walt Simonson…” and “Rob Liefeld?!?!!?!” C+

Captain Cold
No need to get too baroque here; he’s a Flash villain with the perfect weapon to go up against a super-speedster (“So you like to go fast, eh, Flash? Zap! Absolute zero! In your face!”) and a super-cool mack daddy costume to boot. Hey, don’t take my word for it — those Legion of Doom guys don’t let just anyone join their club. Yeah, fine, okay, the Riddler. Point taken. A-

Captain Comet
People who say the Silver Age began in 1956 with the debut of the new Flash tend to overlook characters like Captain Comet, who first came on the scene in 1951. To be fair to those people, he’s kind of forgettable; a child prodigy, young Adam Blake (who was born just as a comet was passing by) discovered his emerging powers were the result of him being a mutant, “born with powers and abilities that would not be common on Earth for another 100,000 years.” So in about 1,000 centuries, we can all look forward to having telepathy, super-strength, and whatever else the writers give him. Sweet. On the down side: after Adam returned to Earth following a few decades of space travel, he “allowed himself for a time to be used by the Secret Society of Super-Villains, becoming their fiercest foe when he learned how he’d been duped.” All those years of evolution and we’ll still be stuck with the gene for gullibility, huh? Bummer. C-

Captain Compass
Not, as you might be led to assume, a villain who teams up with Angle Man to form the Geometry Set of Doom, Captain Compass is actually Mark Compass, a ship’s captain who acts as a “private detective in matters concerning shipping and the high seas.” Imagine Magnum, P.I. sailing on the Love Boat and you get the idea. “Base of Operations: The High Seas.” I’d love to see that on my business card someday. B-

Captain Fear
I gotta admit, if you’re going into the pirate trade, you could do worse than go with a name like “Captain Fear.” Something like “Captain Anxiety” or “Captain Quiet Foreboding Dread” doesn’t quite cut it. His story: he’s a Caribbean native captured by the Spanish and forced to work as a slave until he escapes and exacts his revenge by taking over a pirate ship and preying on Spanish ships. “When asked his name by his crewmen, Fero told them to call him Captain Fear, for fear was what he intended to put into the hearts of every Spaniard he might meet.” How come no one ever tries to inflict self-doubt? Take it from me, you can do a lot of damage putting self-doubt in a fellow’s heart. B-

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Captain Marvel
Yes, his magic word comes from a mish-mash of names from Greek, Roman and Hebrew mythologies. Yes, his early adventures were a tad whimsical and juvenile compared to other Golden Age heroes. Yes, modern writers tend to typecast him as the designated naif, the hero who’s not as “gritty” or “street smart” as the others and therefore more trusting than he should be. But that’s the point. At his height, Captain Marvel’s comics outsold Superman books because he is the ultimate in kid wish fulfilment: young boy says a magic word and poof! he’s a grown-up and a superhero, but he’s still someone who sees the world through a child’s eyes. I don’t want to be in a world that can’t make room for a guy like that. I’m with Batman on this one: “I like him. He’s… sunny.” A

Captain Marvel Jr.
On the other hand, this guy I never understood. The original Captain Marvel is both hero and kid sidekick in one, so why saddle him with a kid-sized version of himself? And why didn’t Freddy Freeman get the same post-pubescent power-up as Captain Marvel when he said his own magic word? Speaking of magic words, his bio says he’s the only hero who is incapable of saying his own name, since doing so summons the lightning that changes him back into Freddy. That must get awkward. “Thanks for saving my life, young flying lad! I’m going to write a big story for the newspaper about how heroic you are! Now, what’s your name?” “Uhhhh….” C-

Captain Nazi
Picture a super-powered Nazi captain in your mind. Yep, that’s pretty much it. Wearing red gloves and boots with yellow epaulettes and a green tunic is the least of his crimes against humanity; he’s also the guy who murdered Freddy Freeman’s grandfather and left Freddy for dead just to score a free boat. Not a pleasant Nazi, is what I’m getting at here. He got his powers from ingesting his nutty father’s “miracle food” and inhaling “a unique flying gas,” the latter of which was developed by a French scientist who was of course murdered by Captain Nazi, preventing millions of other Nazi soldiers from possessing the same power of flight and possibly helping Nazi Germany win the war. Not a smart Nazi, is what I’m getting at here. D

Captain Storm
Okay, for real: how the hell did this guy hang on to his commission? Yeah, there’s some stuff here about a sympathetic daughter of a navy commander going to bat for him, but come on. a WWII PT-boat captain who loses his ship, his crew and his left leg on his first-ever mission is not someone you re-up, no matter how much heart he’s got (assuming that isn’t among his missing body parts). He ended up with a special-forces group called the Losers, and… yeah, that pretty much covers it. C-

Cat-Man
Thomas Blake (shout-out to my English major homies!) is a bored millionaire who decides matching wits with Batman is just the thing to put a spring in his step. And since Catwoman was retired at the time, he figured she wouldn’t mind him borrowing her shtick by throwing around “catarangs,” driving a “Cat-mobile,” assaulting us with “cat-astrophic” cat-puns, etc. Plus he had this mystical cloth and African cat totem just lying around the house anyway, so why the hell not? Not the most original cat you’ll meet, but he had his good moments. Side note: if you haven’t already, pick up Gail Simone’s Secret Six featuring Cat-Man. Great stuff. B-

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Catwoman I/Catwoman II

I’ll tackle both Catwomen at the same time because they’re essentially the same person, the only difference being Catwoman I from Earth-2 (yeah, I know) retired from villainy, married Bruce Wayne, had a daughter and died. This was before Miller’s groundbreaking Batman:Year One story arc, so we don’t get any of the sexual abuse/prostitution backstory modern Catwoman fans are familiar with, just “bored with normal life” and “ripped off by asshole ex-husband” as explanations for these two ladies’ career choices. Which is kind of a shame. Still, it’s nice to see that even back then sisters were doing it for themselves. And the Dave Stevens art on the Catwoman Classic entry? Mrrrowr! A-

Cavalier
Oh, gods of incongruity, you do love your work. After a wondrous double dose of one of Batman’s greatest arch-nemesises… nemeseses… um, villains, we get this feeb, another bored rich guy who robs for greed and pleasure. Specifically, he gussies up like a French musketeer to purloin collectibles for his private museum that he couldn’t acquire through legal means. Would he and so many other ethically challenged collectors have turned to costumed crime so readily if eBay had come along just a little bit sooner? The world may never know. D

Cave Carson
Can we all just agree that “spelunking” sounds like a word cave explorers made up just to screw with the rest of us? And nocturnal-themed vigilantes aside, who explores caves, anyway? Well, super-smart guy Calvin “Cave” Carson does, along with his team members: tough guy and tunnel expert “Bulldozer” Smith, renowned geologist and token female Christie Madison, and devil-may-care adventurer Johnny Blake. Dedicated to exploring the worlds within our world, this fantastic foursome in no way bears any resemblance to any other adventure-seeking quartets you might be thinking of, especially not any that… wait a minute. Fantastic Four #1 came out a full year after this team’s debut in The Brave and the Bold? Huh. C

Celsius
Right, so back in the ’70s DC decided to bring back the Doom Patrol, which was a bit of a challenge considering how the original members were all killed in a massive explosion. No matter: Irani Caulder was introduced as the Chief’s heretofore unmentioned bride, an Indian woman who captured his heart in the streets of Calcutta and journeyed to America to carry on her late husband’s battle against evil after he died. There’s nothing particularly offensive about her; she’s just… well, let me put it this way. Superhero comics require a certain suspension of disbelief, which is fine. But here’s a woman who fell in love with a guy who would later head a crime-fighting team… was whisked away to a hidden monastery by that same guy… learned at that monastery that — whoa! — she’s a mutant with dormant powers and — double whoa! — the monks have the ability to help her master her powers over heat and cold… and she stayed hidden from the Doom Patrol’s enemies until her husband’s death convinced her to carry on his fight… and what the hell, let’s throw in a “took a sip of an immortality elixir cooked up by her secret sweetie” while we’re at it. Sure, why the hell not. D+

Challengers Mountain
Is there a word for fans of cutaway diagrams? Because if there is, I’m one of them. Built in the Colorado Rockies and funded by payments the Challengers have collected for their daring deeds, this hollowed-out mountain “is matched only by the satellite headquarters of the Justice League of America and the Manhattan Tower of the Teen Titans for sheer sophistication and efficiency.” Oh, you did not just go there, Who’s Who. ‘Cause there ain’t no hollowed-out mountain that can beat my Titans Tower, people. Nuh-uh. No. Way. On the other hand… a whole room just for storing uniforms? Sweet! B

Challengers of the Unknown
Ace Morgan! Prof Haley! Red Ryan! Rocky Davis! Some chick the marketing department stuck us with! Together, they are… the Challengers of the Unknown! When four men survive a plane crash that by all rights should have killed them, they vow to use their “borrowed time” wisely by, well, challenging the unknown. Cue the alien monsters and giant robots. Pure Kirby magic, with all the pulse-pounding testosterone that phrase implies, though you have to wonder which one of these manly he-man men insisted they all wear matching purple jumpsuits. And devote a whole room in their mountain to store them. B

Chameleon Boy
Next to Brainiac 5, this is probably my favorite Legionnaire in the Legion of Super-Heroes. Back in the early days, when the Legion’s membership was whiter than a Hanson fan club meeting, Cham was the only visible acknowledgement of the idea that maybe the rest of the galaxy wasn’t filled with beings who looked just like our pastier Earthlings. And even though his shape-shifting powers could have easily allowed him to blend in with average Earth folk, he purposely retained his Durlan shape, antennae and all. Not hard to figure out why; as his bio states, the 30th century is rife with prejudice against his species of shape-changers, and it’s entirely possible his choice to join the Legion was partly (if not entirely) motivated by a desire to fight against species-ism. If so, good on him. A-

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Changeling
Uch. I’m really torn here. On the one hand, Changeling (or Beast Boy as he’s also known) has been at the heart of some decent Teen Titans stories, “The Judas Contract” being the most obvious one, and he adequately fills the crucial role of “good-natured jokester hiding his pain and/or survivor’s guilt” within the team. He’s just… gah! He feels like the product of a marketing team out to find the hero type that the largest number of insecure comic geeks would identify with. “Okay, so we’ll give him the dopey, improbable Silver Age origin… and he’ll get adopted by a billionaire superhero and live in a mansion… and we’ll make him the former star of a short-lived sci-fi TV show… and we’ll make him the irresistibly cute one who has rotten luck with girls because he just cares too darn much. Gentlemen, we’ve done it again!” The people behind that Teen Titans cartoon (no, not Teen Titans Go!) deserve credit for making him funny, instead of someone who constantly reminds people how he’s the funny one. (“Beast Boy, you don’t need a moped. You can fly.” “Yeah, but my arms get tired.” Hee.) C+

Cheetah I/Cheetah II
So, what’s your pleasure, people? Golden Age Cheetah or Silver Age Cheetah? Curvy, retro Trina Robbins Cheetah or lithe, angular Steve Leialoha Cheetah? Nutbar debutante with self-esteem issues Cheetah or nutbar brainwashed eco-terrorist Cheetah? Doesn’t matter which way you go, both roads lead to the same wonderful place: a good old-fashioned Wonder Woman/Cheetah catfight! Hiss! A

Chemical King
With a handle that sounds like the name of a 1960s lawn care company, I really wasn’t expecting much from this guy, and “not much” is exactly what I got. A human catalyst sent by the Legion of Super-Villains to infiltrate the Legion of Super-Heroes, he died a hero’s death while trying to prevent World War VII. Good for him. C-

Chemo
I’ve mentioned this guy before and my feelings about Chemo haven’t changed, so here’s me plagiarizing myself: “No, you shut up. Chemo rocks! Chemo started out as a humanoid-shaped plastic mold that was owned by a scientist. He filled it with his many failed chemical experiments, reasoning the sight of his ‘Chemo’ would motivate him to do better. In retrospect, he probably should have gone with the Hang In There Kitty poster: the chemical slurry somehow gave life to Chemo, and it began its mindless path of destruction by killing its creator with its toxic vomit. From DC’s Who’s Who: ‘Chemo possesses no skills whatsoever as a hand to hand combatant, nor does he really need them.’ DAMN SKIPPY HE DOESN’T.” A

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Cheshire
“Cheshire is a superior hand-to-hand combatant and an expert triple-jointed acrobat, which allows her to move in ways most people couldn’t dream of.” I bet she does. This flexible femme fatale has found steady work in the DCU as a sexy assassin for hire, specializing in poisons to take down her prey. Only thing I can’t figure is where the “Cheshire” name came from. She’s a French/Vietnamese woman taken in by a Chinese guerrilla fighter who learned about poisons from an African assassin; there’s nothing about English counties or Alice in Wonderland characters as far as I can tell. Maybe her name’s a reference to the Cheshire Cat’s ability to disappear from sight? And now suddenly all I can see is her saying “We’re all mad here!” B

The Chief
A super-smart, wheelchair-bound leader of a band of misfit heroes… hmmm, now why does that sound so familiar? Dr. Niles Caulder may have been, as his bio states, “one of the most brilliant scientific minds of the 20th century,” but it’s hard to square that with the part that reveals he agreed to spend years of his life working for a “mysterious benefactor” who wouldn’t reveal his identity or reasons for sponsoring Caulder’s research into immortality. Nope, nothing suspicious about that! So they get into a tussle, Caulder loses the use of his legs and he assembles the Doom Patrol to fight his former boss’s eeee-vil schemes. Then he gets blown up. But on the plus side: flamethrower wheelchair! B+

Chlorophyll Kid
He’s a guy who fell into a giant tank of “hydroponic serum” as a child — because those are always lying next to playgrounds in the 30th century, I guess? — and later discovers he can stimulate rapid plant growth just by pointing at seeds. So naturally he figures this is the perfect superhero power and applies to join the Legion of Super-Heroes. But wait! In a moment of sanity, they reject him on the basis of his power not being useful enough in battle (with Bouncing Boy in the corner shouting, “Suck it, loser!”). And since there apparently isn’t anyone in the 30th century who could find a guy like him useful in, say, preventing millions from starving, he slumps his way over to the Legion of Substitute Heroes. Sigh. Do they just not have career counselors in the future? D+

Chris KL-99
Wow, you can smell the Formica wafting right off this product of the ’50s, can’t you? I’m surprised his outfit doesn’t come with the tail fins of a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. The first baby born in interplanetary space (and I don’t even want to contemplate how well that blessed event went over in a zero-G environment), Chris covers all the tropes: searching for his lost parents, alien sidekicks, planetary explorer, you name it. “Product of his time” is the phrase that comes to mind here. I dunno, maybe I’d take him more seriously if he wasn’t wearing short sleeves. Hard to get that “final frontier” vibe from a guy wearing a shirt that looks like he’s on his way to a polo match. C-

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One response to “Making the Grade: Who’s Who, Vol. IV

  1. Now I’m not a military man, but how come these guys always get commissioned as captains? Shouldn’t they have to serve time in the ranks or as sergeants or corporals or something first? And after years of selflessly dedicating themselves to the cause of liberty and justice (or villainy and nefariousness) surely someone would have been promoted by now? Ok, so ‘Private America’ sounds like a porn channel but ‘Major Marvel’ sounds pretty cool…

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