Time once again to dive right into the fantastical, fact-riddled and frequently flatulent phenomenon of the 1980s known as Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe. This week: Volume Ecks-Eye-Eye, from Jonny Double to Kong the Untamed.
The cover is your usual group shot of the issue’s lineup; I particularly enjoyed the images of the perennially unshirted Kamandi shivering amid all the ice generated by Killer Frost while Kid Devil bounces off an obviously startled Kalibak’s head. Those crazy kids.
As for the letters page, we find out that DC production staffer Todd Klein — the guy who would go on to win dozens of awards for his lettering work on Sandman and other titles — contributed anywhere from two to ten character logos for each issue. And that’s worthy of a shout-out, given how tough it must have been to come up with logos for the likes of Kalista, Killer Moth or Kanjar Ro. Oh, and there’s a short letter from T.M. Maple voicing his support for an annual Who’s Who issue. If you don’t know who that is (Ontario represent!), then you’re far less of a comic nerd then I am — and that’s probably not a bad thing.
Jonny Double wears a white turtleneck under a suit jacket, which tells you everything you need to know about him. He hits all the standard private eye tropes — ex-cop, assorted noir stock supporting characters, office in shabbier part of the city — until we get to this bit of rather florid prose: “Jonny Double remains a downbeat Don Quixote in a society that frowns on windmills, searching for that one last dragon to slay, a once-white knight in rusty armor, the poor man’s Peter Pan.” Um… huh? C-
You know, guys, Superman had a mother, too. Just sayin’. Fun facts about Krypton, courtesy of this entry: (1) Jor-El’s cousin Kru-El went on to become the villainous black sheep of the family and boy, with a name like that who could have seen that twist coming? (2) Lara, Superman’s mother, was an astronaut, and all astronauts on Krypton were women. Sexy! (3) Jor-El was born on Norzec 1st, 9979 and Kal-El was born in Eorx 35, 9998, making Jor-El just 19 years old when he fathered Superman. Stud! (4) Before discovering the Phantom Zone, he came up with the idea of putting criminals into suspended animation, then launching them into orbit with “hypnotic tapes to reform them.” When asked why the orbiting part was necessary, Jor-El was heard to reply: “I just like shooting things up in space, is all. Hey, did you hear what I did with my son’s beloved puppy? Right in front of him, too! Cried like a banshee that night, he did.” B-
It’s cultural appropriation time, kiddies! The white guy from Connecticut is trained by a grateful Japanese sensei in the ways of judo, and he uses his new skills and colorful new costume to fight as a one-man commando unit operating in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Best part of this entry: his birth name is “Rip Jagger.” Second-best part: where it says his “new philosophy, derived from his teaching under the Sensei, allows him to avoid using guns in battle.” I’m sure all the Japanese soldiers whose necks he snapped like balsa wood really appreciated that. C-
Justice League of America
Hell yeah, they put ALL the Justice League heavy hitters on this page! Superman! Batman! Wonder Woman! Flash! Hawkman! Gypsy! Steel! Vixen! Vibe! Wait… what? Yes, this Who’s Who issue came out not long after JLA chairman Aquaman, pissed at his fellow Leaguers for not showing up when a bunch of Martians invaded, formally disbanded the JLA and reconstituted it with heroes who were willing to give the League their full attention — and who were also willing to move to Detroit. “Whether or not this new Justice League will ever attain the legendary status of the original remains to be seen as of this writing.” Wager on “not,” readers. JLA Classic: A; JLA Detroit: D
Justice Society of America
As the “oldest and longest-lasting organization of super-heroes in history,” the JSA included pretty much every DC hero from the Golden Age that mattered, and a few who didn’t. The craziest part of this entry is how the team first formed, with Batman, the original Flash, and the original Green Lantern sent to Scotland by Franklin Roosevelt on a secret mission to fight Nazis, only to end up captured and sent to Berlin for execution and oh by the way some actual Valkyries under Hitler’s command show up to attack Britain while Superman is saving Washington, D.C., from a Nazi bomber plane. This is how they moved product back in the old days, kids. A-
JLA Headquarters/JSA Headquarters
I’m grouping these together because man, talk about compare and contrast. The JLA double-spread features cutaway diagrams of both the original mountain HQ and the more famous satellite HQ, both of them chock-a-block with such features as hangar deck, archery range, grapple beams, “amphibious life support,” “Thanagarian healing ray,” the withered husk of Starro mounted in a souvenir room, a room inexplicably labelled “arts/craft,” you name it. And then there’s the JSA HQ, represented by Todd McFarlane as the exterior of a Manhattan brownstone with two teeny cutaway bubbles: “Armory” and “Meeting Room.” Maybe there was a game on? Ah well, let’s get back to fun mental images of Batman and Flash playing with macaroni and glue. JLA: A-, JSA: D+
J. Wilbur Wolfingham
In between Superman’s radical socialist origins and his mellower, planet-juggling years was an endless parade of mad scientists, business-suited criminals who used toys and games in their crimes, and guys like J. Wilbur Wolfingham. He’s an old-school con artist who’s just trying to make a dishonest buck off the greedy and gullible, but his schemes never come to fruition thanks to Superman. And I must say, it’s nice to know all the super-villains, alien invasions and injustices of the world have been dealt with if Superman has the time to go dog some old dude who lists “cheats at pool and golf” under his Powers and Weapons. Look at the background art — Superman is even on the scene to stop this guy from pick-pocketing some guy’s wallet. I’m surprised Superman didn’t spin the Earth backwards to stop Wolfingham from taking the change from a payphone. I mean, come on, Big Blue. Everyone needs a hobby, sure, but now you’re just being a dick. C
A classic Kirby character rendered here by the classic team-up of Jack Kirby and Greg Theakston. Also known as “Kalibak the Cruel” and “The Scourge of Apokolips” for his savagery in battle and the horrors of his “torment chambers” (which I really hope refers to dungeons and not his sleeping quarters), the big K fills a valuable role in the Apokoliptian ecology by smashing whatever Daddy Darkseid aims him at. Not big in the brains department, granted, but a tougher customer is hard to find — to the point where you wonder why he even needs to wield his “Beta-Club” in battle. It’s like sticking a bayonet to the front of a Sherman tank. B+
Don’t panic, everyone. I know the answer you’re all dying to know, and I’m here to put your mind at ease. Yes, after all their struggles and separations and a “soul-searching confrontation,” Kalista and Primus are finally back together and are closer than ever. Whew. Wait, you have no idea who I’m talking about? Um… well, never mind. C-
Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth!
Blond, long-haired, clean-looking, bare-chested, cutoffs-wearing teenage boy wandering through a post-apocalyptic world full of upright-walking dogs, rats, tigers and killer whales. Nothing to see here, folks. Just keep moving. For the love of God, keep moving. D
I’m kind of torn here. On the one hand, Kana: Secret Shadow Warrior (as he’s called here) is as generic as ninjas can get, right down to the vow of vengeance and basic-builder ninja skills set. But he came out before characters like Storm Shadow and a certain quartet of turtles made ninjas only slightly less ubiquitous in comics than the homoerotic subtext in Smallville, so one could argue that at least he’s the definitive generic ninja. Meh, let’s split the difference and award him a gentleman’s C+.
So, no room for Superman’s mom but we can devote a whole page to Brainiac’s science project, huh? Alrighty, then. Lots of crazy history here about shrinking rays and tiny aliens and Superman moonlighting as Kandor’s masked defender, but hands down the weirdest part of this entry is the section that talks about how Krypton formed its first democratic government. After the last of the planet’s great wars was over, Krypton’s leaders couldn’t decide what form the new world government should take. So they decided to pick their leader by having the head of each of the political factions stand in the middle of a thunderstorm, with each person holding a lightning rod; whoever didn’t get hit by lightning would get to form the new ruling party of Krypton. So what happened? Well, the guy representing the scientist faction won by using a rod made of non-conductive material, and so the technocrats ended up ruling the planet. You know, this story doesn’t make Kryptonians sound very bright. Explains a lot, really. C+
Another interstellar conqueror who tried to coerce the Justice League to do his heavy lifting. About the only interesting thing about him is his use of rods, gongs and “cosmic ships” to further his evil plans. He’s like the unfunny prop comic of bug-eyed alien dictators. D+
“Wax on, wax off.” If you squint a little, you can almost see Ralph Macchio’s likeness in the face Steve Lightle gives the only non-powered member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. He has supposedly mastered every form of martial arts in the known galaxy and once “was able to fight Superboy to a standstill using physical powers only.” Sure, kid. Whatever you say. C+
She’s a Japanese woman who uses a soul-stealing magic sword to avenge the deaths of her husband and children, and then hangs out with the Outsiders. I’m thinking the writer of this entry left out a somewhat important part of her history, like how she made the transition from “vengeance-fueled widowed samurai in Tokyo” to “running an L.A. bookstore and hanging out with second-string vigilantes.” She’s one gal you don’t want to get angry, and I’d grade her higher just to stay on her good side. On the other hand, no one forced her to sign up for that execrable Beware the Batman show, so… C-
And lo, when Gardner Fox looked around his office in search of ideas for a new super-villain, he realized all the good ones — and even some that weren’t — were taken, so he reached into his pocket for inspiration. “Hmmm…. Corporal Lint? Nah. The Spare Change Gang? Think, Gardner, think! Wait! I have it! And I shall call him… The Key!” The Key tried to make himself the “key” man in the universe by using his “key men” and “keyboard” to kidnap “key” government officials. Sensing a theme here? We’re told he also “injected himself with various psycho-chemicals” — which is what I might do soon if I hear one more key pun. D+
Every sci-fi/fantasy franchise needs them, the alien race of militaristic a-holes whose only purpose is to give the good guys someone to fight. Klingons, Cylons, Orcs, Decepticons… it’s not glamorous work, but it’s a living. The Khunds fill this role in the Legion of Super-Heroes universe. Let’s get out the trope checklist. Ruthlessly expansionist? Check. Homeworld in perpetual darkness and/or overpopulated and in any case an unpleasant place to be? Check. Totalitarian form of government? Check. Legal disputes settled by physical combat? Check. Considered useful cannon fodder by more devious antagonists? Check. All they need is their own guttural language and nerds dressing like them at Comic-Con and they’re all set. C+
Oy. This is a kid who puts on a high-tech devil suit to become the sidekick for a very reluctant Blue Devil. And I know the Blue Devil book was part parody and the writers were purposely creating that stereotypical kid sidekick that makes no logical sense in the other comics, but… argh! We’re supposed to believe a 12-year-old whiz kid can cobble up a bulletproof, strength-enhancing suit on his own? And his parents are okay with him getting his education from a trio of professors who allow him to tackle super-villains for extra credit? And he’s pen pals with Robin? How would that last one work, anyway? Would he address the envelope to “Robin, c/o Gotham Gams Leg Waxing Emporium, Gotham City” and hope for the best? D
You kids today, you think you know twisted. Christopher “Kit” Freeman was the brother of Freddy “Captain Marvel Jr.” Freeman, and he was crossing the Atlantic with his grandfather when their ship was torpedoed by Nazis. Kit died, but at the gates of Eternity he learned he wasn’t supposed to be dead; apparently, a fat guy in a robe named Mr. Keeper screwed up and accidentally called Kit’s spirit to Heaven before his time. So to cover up his mistake, Mr. Keeper gave Kit the power to return to Earth in either spirit or mortal form, the ability to summon the spirits of other dead people to help him fight crime, and even the means to travel through time — all by saying “Eternity!” Oh, and he did all this while wearing a white turtleneck, purple pants and a red sash around his waist. Oh, sure, that’s the part you find far-fetched. C-
Wally West was the Flash’s biggest fan. His Aunt Iris — who just happened to be the Flash’s girlfriend — knew this and arranged for him to meet his hero. The Flash was showing Wally how he got his super-powers by standing with him in front of a cabinet containing the exact same chemicals that were in the cabinet next to the Flash when he was struck by lightning. And then — what a coincidence! — a lightning bolt struck at that precise moment, dousing Wally in the exact same chemical bath and giving him the exact same super-speed powers as his idol! And then he won the lottery eight times in a row! And then every supermodel on the planet got into a huge catfight over him! And then the writers of these books laughed their asses off at how dumb we all were for swallowing every bit of this! B-
Killer Frost was a rare gem of a super-villain for several reasons. Unlike most Firestorm villains, she’s someone with a set of powers that make her an actual threat to our hot-headed hero. And unlike most female villains, she didn’t go into super-villainy to steal diamonds or because she wanted to hump a hero; no, her life goal can be best summed up as DeathDeathAndMoreDeath to anything resembling a man. Plus, her “ice queen” ensemble and too-perfect name-as-destiny birth name (Crystal Frost) take her all the way past lame and circling back towards awesome again. Of course, someone at DC had to ruin a good thing by redesigning her to look like a flash-frozen Pamela Anderson during the actress’s Baywatch days, but that’s not important. What is important is settling who would win in a no-holds-barred fight: Killer Frost or Elsa from Frozen. A
Annnnnnd then we’ve got this guy. Please understand, I don’t have a problem with the concept here; there’s a lot of storytelling potential in a Batman villain who sets out to become the same kind of costumed protector for criminals that Batman is for the law-abiding citizens of Gotham. It’s the execution that’s the problem here. Specifically: a moth??? The best this guy could come up with for a motif was an insect known for eating clothes and flying directly into porch lights? And then he compounds the idiocy by driving a “Moth-Mobile,” answering the “Moth-Signal” and wearing a lime green mask, purple shirt and orange-and-green-striped tights. A shame, really. D
Killer Shark I/II
The first Killer Shark was yet another Nazi-engineered super-soldier with enhanced strength but no notable shark-like attributes; the second was a costumed pirate with no super powers or apparent interest in Nazism. Ironically, the first one is presumed to have drowned after a battle with Blackhawk atop a submarine, so… yeah. A significant chunk of their bio is given over to a discussion about how it’s not known if either or both of these guys survived the “recent so-called crisis on infinite earths” — and you can bet almost no one who picked up this book in 1985 cared to find out. D+
Yet another Golden Age “wealthy man of leisure” who put on a suit and opera cape to fight crime. His gimmick: he’s a master of disguise and consummate actor, and he foiled criminals by pretending to be one of them. Oh, and his arch-nemesis was a female master of disguise whom he could never bring himself to turn in, because he was as attracted to her as she was to him. Sheesh, get a room, you crazy kids. I hope they hooked up and settled down somewhere nice. C
“Very little is known of the early life of King Faraday.” Damn skippy there isn’t — you don’t get to be a jet-setting spy without a little mystery about your past. Not much here to work with, just that he’s traveled the world doing “whatever he feels necessary” to protect the United States and he has a mutual grudging respect for Batman. Oh, and there’s a picture of him punching a guy holding some lit dynamite. Take that, Taliban Dan! Sure glad the artist thought to put in the dynamite; I was concerned about who I should be rooting for before I saw that. C
Knights of the Galaxy
Random thoughts while looking at this page:
(1) What, the chick is pretty enough to be in the picture but she’s not allowed to wear pants or sport a holster and jet pack? Sexists!
(2) So this legendary team of 25th-century commandos are sworn to protect Earth and its allied planets, and every last one of them wouldn’t look out of place at a 1941 “Up with Aryans” pep rally? Racists!
(3) So presumably Lyle is the guy out in front, but we somehow needed a second image of his giant head floating in space lest we forget which spit-curled hunk of manliness is running this show? Fascists!
(4) “Lyle”…? We get futuristic names for the other knights like Ora and Artho, and their square-jawed leader is named Lyle??? D+
This guy ain’t your average would-be world conqueror with fanatical followers ready to die at his command, in the sense that (a) he first appeared in his own title, also named Kobra and (2) he once had a twin brother, the “good” one, with whom he shared a psychic bond until he severed it so he could off his own brother. Kind of paint-by-numbers with the snake theme, the legions of cultist followers, and the whole “destiny to rule the world” thing, but you’ve got to admire the upside-down-devil-horns semi-goatee. Not a lot of guys have the confidence to pull off that kind of look. B-
Or, if you will, the anti-Kid Flash on the Teen Titans team. Talk about a hard-luck Harriet. Not only were her parents raving scientist loons who gave her crystal-weaving powers as part of their mad Dr. Moreau-like experiments… not only was she kidnapped by a mad Greek goddess as a teenager and forced to do her bidding on Mount Olympus for two years… not only did she escape from servitude only to learn her parents were madder than ever… not only was she snuffed out permanently during the whole Crisis on Infinite Earths thing mere months after her debut… on top of all that, she “was attracted to the mute hero Jericho.” Poor kid never had a chance. C-
Kong the Untamed
A slender, smooth-skinned, bare-chested, angel-faced, long-haired blond boy from the Cro-Magnon Age who ran around in nothing but furry swimming trunks, Kong would often trade Google alerts with Kamandi about sexual offender movements in the tri-state area. C-