Is it Saturday already? Then that means it’s time once again to dive right into the eternally effervescent encyclopedia known as Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe. This week: Volume Ecks-Eye-Vee, from Luthor I to Masters of Disaster.
We’ve got a fun Pérez/Giordano cover showing a couple of interesting pairing, like Martian Manhunter having a predictable reaction to Heatstroke from the Masters of Disaster team, Manhunter I squaring off with one of the Manhunter robots, and Maaldor getting into a duel with Madame .44. And while you might think the term “never bring a knife to a gunfight” would apply here, keep in mind Maaldor’s a guy who can “destroy entire galaxies with a thought.” Little lady’s got guts, is what I’m saying.
Inside, we get a letter from one DeWayne Copeland who has just a few questions, one of them being why there’s no Fortress of Solitude entry even though Brainiac’s page has a reference to it. The editors explained there were some last-minute line-up changes and Superman’s man-cave, which missed getting listed with the other ‘F’ entries, would be filed under “Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.” But by the time we got around to the books covering the letter S, John Byrne’s Superman reboot was in full swing, and the Fortress of Solitude (which hadn’t yet appeared in the “new” Superman continuity at that time) never made an appearance in Who’s Who or its annual updates. This angered a lot of Superman fans at the time, myself included, and angry mobs may or may not have been involved. I got over it.
This is Original Crispy Recipe Luthor, the version that bedevilled the Golden Age Superman with his healthy crop of red hair. Not only was he not bald, he wasn’t even American — he was a foreigner (Boo! Hiss! Go back to Germania!) of indeterminate origin who did things like sabotage peace conferences in the hopes of plunging the world into useless, bloody conflicts (insert lame “but that’s what American presidents are for!” punchline here). He was also the first to figure out Superman’s allergy to certain green rocks, but that didn’t help him much when the Crisis on a Whole Bunch of Earths rolled in; after challenging Brainiac’s decision to give the other Luthor a plum assignment, Brainiac agreed there were too many Luthors to keep track of, and vaporized Luthor I where he stood. The lesson: keep your head down and your trap shut. C
This is the Luthor most people remember, the bald scientist with a mad-on for Superman, the guy who spent millions on giant robots to steal thousands from banks and wasted most of his career sashaying around secret lairs in purple-and-green jumpsuits when he could have patented those super-death-rays and made some serious coin. DC figured that out in the ’80s and recast Luthor as an evil businessman type who uses his brains and severe lack of empathy to own most of Metropolis and, eventually, host his own reality show (not really, but boy, imagine that possibility). But that all happened shortly after this Who’s Who entry went to print, which mentions a hair-removing lab accident, a vow to avenge his lustrous mane, family members changing their names in shame, a long-lost librarian sister, a distant planet that praises Luthor and reviles Superman… It’s not terrible stuff, but to be honest a lot of it feels wholly unnecessary, and I think Luthor got so much play and became Superman’s arch-nemesis by default because so many other contenders for the title failed to click with readers. It’s probably not a popular stance to take, but if I’m grading Luthor strictly on his pre-Crisis, non-Hackman performances, then the best I can do is B-. And that’s being generous.
On the other hand, maybe I should reconsider that assessment. This goateed goober — a “good” counterpart to Luthor on a world where the only super-powered beings are bad guys — appeared in exactly two comics (DC Comics Presents Annual #1 and Crisis on Infinite Earths #1) before biting it. And yet he gets an entire page while cult favorites like Prez and the Green Team are persona non grata. Someone explain this to me. C-
IAMJESUSIAMJESUSIAMJESUSIAMJESUSIAMJESUS…. sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the subtext. Insufferably pure and innocent, Alex Luthor (“Occupation: World Savior”) was rocketed from his home planet just as it was destroyed, conveniently aged from infant to teenager in time for the big battle at the end of Crisis, and can “open the door to other worlds” using his powers. Quoth the entry: “His power was eliminated upon opening the final door into that unknown limbo, and that door can never be reopened without the complete and utter destruction of all life anywhere.” Which sounds like a clear enough message to future comic writers to never, ever bring back this supremely useless character. So what did they go and do in Infinite Crisis? Sigh… D-
Maaldor the Darklord
This is a guy who doesn’t get a lot of attention, and it’s not hard to see why. He first appeared in DC Comics Presents, not exactly a showcase for new and exciting characters. He only lasted about three years before getting snuffed in Crisis. He kind of rips off Marvel’s Champion, in that he’s a cosmic wanderer in search of a worthy opponent to battle. He wears Roman-ish armor and carries a broadsword. His name sounds like something from a D&D game. He has a Jheri curl, fer the luvva Mike. But consider this: he can “destroy entire galaxies with a thought” by focusing the energies of an entire universe. He once fought the entire Green Lantern Corps to a standstill. He’s a cosmic-level threat who knows what he wants, and all he wants is a big sword and someone to smack with it. Call me crazy, but this is a guy ripe for a comeback. Certainly more than that Luthor punk. B
He’s your standard galley slave-turned-gladiator-turned-freedom fighter who hung out with that Warlord guy in the other-dimensional land of Skartaris. How tight are those two? When an axe containing a demonic entity attached itself to Machiste’s right hand and turned him into a tyrannical king, the Warlord stepped up and chopped off Machiste’s hand to break the demon’s hold on him. And Machiste was totally cool with it, because it meant he could attach a bitchin’ spiked ball to the stump. That’s how tight they are. I’m lucky if I can get my friends to pick me up at the airport. B+
Jeanne Walker was a woman in the Old West who decided to strike back at varmints and hornswogglers by becoming a masked bandit, robbing dishonest men that the law couldn’t touch and returning their ill-gotten gains to their victims (minus a small fee for her and her gang). Her job as a photographer allowed her to find out about unscrup– hold on a sec. I’m no Ansel Adams, but I seem to recall photography in the 19th century required about 80 lbs. of equipment and a five-hour head start just to get a decent portrait shot. I’m not really seeing how that line of work would have led to a lot of hot tips for a comely vigilante to follow up on, but then I’m still trying to figure out how a woman in the 1800s could disguise her identity with just some hair dye. C
Okay, so follow this if you can: a beautiful French actress gets in a car accident that doesn’t mar her looks but leaves her schizophrenic. She’s then kidnapped by a giant talking ape and the ape’s boss, a brain floating inside a giant metal chess piece. They zap her with a ray that flips her mental switch all the way to evil, give her the power to change her shape, and then they all move into a Parisian school for girls and start up the Brotherhood of Evil. I swear I am not making any of this up. Also? Her name means “Mrs. Red” in English. Nothing about her is remotely red. This is why I love comics. B
On the surface, Madame Xanadu was a simple tarot card reader who offered advice to anyone who entered her Greenwich Village shop. But in reality, she was so much more… or so we were told. Who’s Who came out long before Madame Xanadu’s Vertigo series or random appearances in DC’s spookier titles, so there’s not much to her history here, just a lot of speculation and description of what happens when someone enters her shop “freely and unafraid.” I say every woman deserves to have a few secrets, so let’s instead focus on her shoes, which I would totally buy for my wife if I knew where to get them. Hell, I might even try them on if they come in a 12 wide. B
Of course she’s French. See the red beret? They only hand those out in France. She’s a French Resistance fighter during the Second World War who, as seen here, possessed the amazing ability to rappel down a cliff while firing a machine gun and wearing what appear to be ballet slippers. That’s a keeper in my book. Alfred Pennyworth must have thought so, too, as it’s suggested he and Mlle. Marie hooked up during the war. I know I shouldn’t find the idea of Alfred having sex disturbing and gross, but I do. It’s like learning your grandparents have a safe word. B-
We’re told the Mad Hatter is called that because of his obsession with hats and his resemblance to Sir John Tenniel’s depiction of the character in the original Alice in Wonderland. Fair enough. So of course his first acts of crime were… stealing a yacht club trophy and attempting to rob a horse show? Way to stick to that theme there, Tetch. He later branched out into “computer crime” (and yes, the phrase is enclosed in quotation marks in the text, which I find adorable), using special hats to hypnotize victims, extract memories from their minds, download movies illegally, send Facebook game requests to people he didn’t even know — truly, his evil knew no limits. There’s a monkey in the artwork despite no mention in the text of the Mad Hatter ever employing one — or any thematic reason for him to have one, for that matter. But who doesn’t love monkeys? B
Uch. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m sad that his “mothr” died and all (keep reaching for the stars, DC proofreaders from 30 years ago!), but the kid isn’t exactly possessed of a — dare I say it — magnetic personality. Pol Krinn uses his people’s natural-born magnetic powers to follow big brother Rokk “Cosmic Boy” Krinn into the Legion of Super-Heroes. That sound you hear is every Hollywood producer in the world going “And…?” at the same time. D+
At first blush, I want to grade this fellow highly, mainly because his name is a headline writer’s dream come true (“Disaster strikes again!”). But let’s look at the record. He’s a thief on the run from police who — just by chance — breaks into the apartment of Green Lantern’s best buddy and — again, just by chance — finds a hidden journal that reveals the secret identities of both Green Lantern and the Flash. So armed with this knowledge, he… hires some scientists to build him machines that cause major disasters? And when that backfires on him, he orders up another device that shields him from the effects of the other machines? And when he tries to internalize his machines’ disaster-causing powers, it nearly destroys him until Superman intervenes? Okay, then. Two questions: (1) When do you think this guy will get the hint and switch to slightly less dangerous forms of villainy, like online auction fraud? (2) Where does a fellow get himself some scientists who can whip up tornado and earthquake machines in a hurry? No reason, asking for a friend. C-
This guy probably isn’t the only superhero whose backstory sounds like the product of a late-night Mad Libs game, but man, talk about random. He’s a guy who needed the Teen Titans’ help with [STREET GANGS]. He later joined the group and adopted the name and costume of [GUARDIAN]. Later, he received a [MAGIC HORN] with the power to [TELEPORT PEOPLE]. Still later, he married [BUMBLEBEE] and retired from heroics to [WRITE NOVELS]. With a history like that, you will not be surprised to learn most modern-day readers [DON’T GIVE A SHIT] about him. D
Kind of a Gandalf/Falstaff mix, this wizard and court advisor to Charlemagne was Arak’s travelling companion through eighth-century Europe. Not a whole lot in his entry that stands out, though I have to ask what the hell is up with that satyr figure in the corner. For real — there’s no explanation in the text, nothing about Malagigi having magic satyr powers or a satyr buddy. But boom, there he is, leering at the reader like nobody’s business. There’s a lot of that in Who’s Who, pictures in the background art that don’t make a damn lick of sense or get any explanation in the text. I’m seriously considering writing a letter. C+
He’s one of the villains who joined the Fearsome Five after responding to an ad placed in a newsletter for super-villains — though given this big guy’s low intelligence I’m guessing his sister filled out the application form for both of them. Inhumanly strong, partially invulnerable, easy to anger and dumb as a post, Mammoth isn’t filling any unique niches in the super-villain ecosystem. I suspect a peek at George Pérez’s high school yearbook will reveal the unwitting model for this fellow’s likeness. C-
I can hear them in the editors’ offices now. “But what if we put Batman up against… a Man-Bat? Huh? Huh?” Kirk Langstrom was a bat expert at the Gotham City Museum of Natural History who, for shits and giggles, injected himself with a serum derived from bat glands (“Na na na na na na na… bat glands!!!!”). Instead of getting the nifty bat-sonar powers he was expecting, he turns into a grotesque were-bat, understandably going insane in the process. At one point, he forced his wife to take the serum so she would become a Woman-Bat and they could mate and yeah okay I think I want to go back to picturing Alfred have sex now. C+
Tough call. Man-Bat was already pushing the whole “villain who’s the reverse of the hero’s name” motif a bit too far, but at least he had a half-decent concept attached to him. The Manhawks, who first bedevilled Hawkman, are… well, giant man-hawks. Who can fly through space. And are telepathic. And shoot laser eye beams. And also shoot eye beams that can teleport objects into a limbo dimension. And their whole shtick is stealing valuables from other worlds, even though it’s hard to imagine what they would do with gems and jewels and negotiable bearer bonds because, you know, giant hawks. On the other hand, the concept is so irredeemably stupid you almost have to admire the nerve it took for someone to even put it out there. Plus, I love this part: “The masks are designed to resemble the faces of the dominant life-form on the planet they’re robbing.” So they’re not only an evil kleptomaniac alien bird race, they’re an evil kleptomaniac alien bird race that messes with their victims’ heads just because they can. Tell me that doesn’t make you smile a little bit. Let’s split the difference and give them a C.
“Though he had no super powers, Manhunter was trained well as a fighter and a gymnast. He was remarkably strong and tough as well as agile.” He was also a trained police officer with firearms training that might have come in handy while he prowled the streets as a masked vigilante, but hey, I’m sure those perfectly executed somersaults did the job just fine. He also had a dog, “Thor the Thunderdog,” who always came running when his master blew a hypersonic whistle. The entry ends by saying his last recorded case was in 1950 and it’s not known what happened to him after that. “Thor, at least, is long dead by now.” Way to bring down the room, guys. C
“He stalks the world’s most dangerous game!” Not in that outfit, buddy. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I loves me some Walt Simonson zaniness as much as the next discerning comic nerd, but in what parallel dimension is that outfit remotely practical for manhunting work? Those Golden Girls kimono sleeves alone would cause Lady Gaga to send the outfit back for being too flashy. Aside from that, his is a simple story: big-game hunter becomes vigilante, goes back to hunting animals, nearly dies after getting stomped by an elephant, gets saved by mysterious shadowy organization, is kept in a coma for decades and genetically altered to be their lethal enforcer while they clone him to create an army, then trained by martial arts master and told to go kill people, which he refuses to do and it leads to a big climactic battle with a dude in a psionic helmet. You know, that old chestnut. C-
“No man escapes the Manhunters!” And once again Isaac Asimov proves to be smarter than a bunch of immortal midget control freaks. Only part of this entry that seems a bit off is these robotic vigilantes exposing their existence after millions of years of subterfuge and infiltration just to frame Hal Jordan for planetary genocide in a plot to discredit the Guardians of the Universe. Which sounds like a really convoluted way to get back at your old bosses, but who wouldn’t jump at the chance to throw Jordan’s ass in the slammer? B-
He’s a Legion baddie with a glowing disk on the palm of his right hand that can disintegrate anything he touches with it. Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, B, A, A, insert mandatory masturbation joke, done. D+
Mantis is a perfect example of how gloriously insane Jack Kirby’s imaginary worlds could be. He’s “the most powerful being on Apokolips apart from Darkseid” and he has some unexplained connection to the “bug people” on New Genesis, but his super powers don’t have anything to do with praying or chopping the heads off sexual partners after mating. No, instead we get patented Kirby-esque techno-babble like “energy vampire,” “power pod,” “thermal touch,” “frigi-block,” and so forth. Seeing his old and new designs for this character side by side reminds me of how Mantis was one of the action figures in the 1980s Super Powers line, and how Kirby was asked to provide new designs for the figures that were based on his Fourth World characters, and how it was the first time in his career he was paid royalties for any of the dozens of characters he’s come up with over the years. So yeah, warm feelings all around. B+
Interesting dichotomy here. Jan Duursema draws this supporting character from Arion, Lord of Atlantis as a wee California-type blonde (all of 5’0″) wagging a finger at what is presumably the ancient Atlantean version of a naughty housecat. But when “under emotional stress,” she can change into a fire-breathing dragon, a winged lion “and perhaps other beings as well.” Note to self: do not emotionally stress her. B-
A former Russian archaeologist, Mariah Romanova followed U.S. Air Force pilot Travis Morgan into the fantasy world of Skartaris in search of adventure and freedom. Apparently, that included the freedom to wear only outfits that can be stored inside a Tic Tac container. For real, between this porn-shoot bikini and the Warlord’s furry codpiece, I’m starting to wonder if anyone in that realm of perpetual daylight ever worries about the dangers of UV rays. Good luck fighting melanoma with a sword, guys! C+
Look, I’ve expressed my Kirby love lots of times here, so I think I can be allowed to say even Homer nods off (the Greek guy, not Springfield’s first gentleman). The Forever People was essentially Kirby trying to stick Sixties-style hippies in his cosmic space opera, and it didn’t work as well as he might have hoped. As for this guy, the leader of the group, his only notable aspect is his part in building a convincing argument that Star Wars was more heavily inspired by Kirby’s work than Lucasfilm is willing to admit. D+
I was hoping to report the Greek god of war was actually a misunderstood guy who isn’t the bloodthirsty prick everyone makes him out to be. But nope: this entry makes it pretty clear he’s a prick. And a bloodthirsty one, at that. He’s had a hand in fomenting every conflict through the ages, and he’s forever at war with the Amazons and their “love will conquer the world” hippie-dippie baloney. So not a nice fellow, by any stretch. Then there’s this odd part at the end: “Even in this modern day, we still have a month named for him: March.” Um… yeah, we do. And your point is…? Are you saying we’re unwittingly paying homage to the god of war for 31 days out of the year? Does enjoying a Shamrock Shake make me party to his crimes against humanity? C-
An interesting character albeit a criminally mishandled one in his early days, you could sense the writers of this entry felt the same way. Proof? Not a peep about the more embarrassing aspects of Manhunter’s early career: no Professor Hugo, no V.U.L.T.U.R.E., no Diabolu Idol-Head, no Zook, nothing. No, instead we get the basics about how he came to Earth: an accidental teleportation, a scientist who inconveniently kicks the bucket, a decision to use his shape-shifting powers to blend in as a police detective. In a way, those early misadventures worked to J’onn’s advantage, as the apparent desire to forget they ever happened turned a longtime second-stringer into a blank slate that later writers were happy to write all over. Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis gave him a fondness for Oreos, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini made him an integral part of the Justice League show, and Darwyn Cooke found a brilliant use for him as a metaphor for Cold War paranoia in DC: The New Frontier. Plus, you have to love any character whose shape-shifting abilities allow him to take any form he chooses, and yet he takes a form that doesn’t totally hide his otherness, and all but forces people to confront their deepest prejudices. That’s called symbolism, y’all. A
Still maintaining my boycott of Atari Force characters, gang. That said: a goddamn pipe? What is this, an article on the future from a 1947 issue of Popular Mechanics? D
You know, I can understand DC driving Fawcett into the ground with lawsuits and picking up the rights to Captain Marvel as its prize just to prove it could, but entries like this only drive home the point that Cap and the other DC superheroes were never meant to be in the same sandbox. For instance, is it even remotely plausible that, say, Superman would pick up versions of himself named Tall Superman, Fat Superman, Uncle Superman or Hill Billy Superman? Well, yes, in a Weisinger-era imaginary story, sure. But as an ongoing plot device? Two particular points of weirdness here: (1) the inclusion of Hoppy the Marvel Bunny in the art, while the text says he lives in “a world of funny animals” and is therefore “not a member of the Marvel family” and (2) the mention of “The Marvel Family Round-Table,” a show hosted by the Marvel Family on WHIZ-TV. “Thanks, Hill Billy Marvel, for that insightful report on rising tensions in the Middle East. Now it’s time for Consumer Corner with Fat Marvel.” Utterly bizarre. C-
Speaking of bizarre. Oh, Mary herself is a sweet gal, but the specifics of her origin again show how oddly the Shazam universe fits in the DCU. Supergirl was introduced as Superman’s long-lost cousin when she flew out of a rocket ship; Mary Marvel was introduced by explaining Billy Batson had a twin sister… and they were both cared for by a nurse after their parents died in a car accident… and the nurse sent Billy to an orphanage while she gave Mary to a couple whose infant died but the nurse swapped the dead baby for Mary before they realized what happened… and she gave Mary half a locket that somehow stayed in Mary’s possession until she became a teenager… and one day Mary just happened to appear on a teen quiz show hosted by her long-lost twin brother, who just happened to have been summoned to the dying nurse’s bedside to get the other half of the locket during a commercial break… Let’s face it, soap opera resurrections are less contrived than this origin story. If Shazam is cool with giving powers to a guy named Hill Billy Marvel, for crying out loud, then I’m sure we can come up with a slightly more plausible story for Mary. And don’t get me started on how Billy turns into an adult when the lightning strikes, and all Mary gets is a mini-skirt and cape. B-
Carl Draper was an architect who felt inferior his entire life. But he had a knack for building traps and parlayed that into a successful career as a prison architect. On the day of his greatest achievement, a prison designed to contain all of Metropolis’s super-villains, his moment of triumph was inadvertently hijacked by Superman, who added a plastic bubble and anti-gravity platform and flew it 20,000 feet in the air (which, to be fair, was kind of a dick move on Superman’s part if he didn’t tell Draper about it beforehand: “Yeah, great prison you’ve got here, I’ll just add my own personal touches — you don’t mind, right?”). Adding to the humiliation, the press dubbed it “Superman’s Island.” So Draper got his revenge by kidnapping Lana Lang and trapping Superman in his “Eternity Trap.” Which of course Superman escaped from, and the Master Jailer went to jail, only to escape (what a twist!) and set up more traps for other heroes. “He has also taken to robbing, as his special traps require a great deal of money.” No shit. You know what would save you from having to do all that robbing, Carl? Getting over it already. Just sayin’. D
Masters of Disaster
I mentioned these guys back when I did a list of super-teams that put way too much effort into a unifying theme; they’re thugs for hire with the power of natural disasters at their command. There’s an attempt at pathos (Coldsnap and Heatstroke are lovers who can’t touch each other! Windfall watched her sister New Wave kill their mother!), but on the whole they’re a pretty forgettable bunch. To no one’s surprise, they battled Batman and the Outsiders, with one of them eventually switching sides to join the heroes — creating, I believe, something that theoretical physicists call “a quantum singularity of forgettableness.” C-