Making the Grade: Who’s Who, Vol. XV

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Is it time to celebrate our baby’s quinceañera already? The time, how she flies. Let’s take our weekly look at the greatest creation of the 1980s (aside from the McDLT, of course): Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe. This week: Volume Ecks-Vee, from the unforgettable Matrix-Prime to the venerable Mister Tawky Tawny. 

The cover for this one starts us off in the right direction, with the Metal Men and Metamorpho up to their usual shape-changing antics whilst Mento and Mindboggler have themselves a mental-bolt showdown and Mister E nonchalantly knocks Mr. Atom’s robotic head clean off his shoulders with nothing more than a THWACK of his cane. One of George Pérez’s better covers for the series, IMHO. 

 

Onward!

Matrix-Prime
It’s a robot with limited intelligence possessing the ability to build tiny robots within itself. It used to have “rocket tubes” before someone attached some legs. It was created by scientists working in a secret lab under Lake Michigan. Its first appearance in a pre-Crisis Supergirl comic — and, later, six seasons of its own TV show and a movie — was the beginning of its journey as an unforgettable character that will be loved and cherished for centuries to come. One of these statements is not true. D

Matter-Eater Lad
Hailing from the planet Bismoll (get it?), Tenzil Kem won membership in the Legion by demonstrating his ability to eat anything — and while you may question the utility of such a talent on a team of super-heroes, they had already let in that Bouncing Boy dweeb so what the hell. The namby-pambies at the Comics Code Authority prevented early writers from exploring some of the obvious questions surrounding that particular super-power, and he was played completely straight until he was sent back to his home planet to go into politics. “Despite his bout with madness, he is considered a leading candidate to be drafted for the presidency of his planet.” “Despite“…? Given some of our leaders here on Earth, bouts of madness would seem to be a pre-requisite. Never fully explored as a character, he’s still a great reminder of how much fun the early Legion could be. Hence, B+

Matter Master
This Hawkman villain was Mark Mandrill, a failed alchemist who blundered across a chemical that allowed him to manipulate any form of matter: levitate it, shrink it, expand it, animate it, you name it. In anyone else’s hands, the “magic wand” fashioned out of this miracle compound would have led to the creation of a formidable foe capable of making Superman cry for his mommy… but in Mandrill’s hands, it led to a pointy wizard hat, one of the dumbest names on the Secret Society’s roster, and one humiliating defeat after another. Matter Master? More like the master of not mattering. D-

Maxie Zeus
A later addition to Batman’s gallery of rogues, Zeus is a criminal gang leader who believes he is the king of the Greek gods. This leads him to “plan all his crimes around a mythological motif” and speak in an affected pattern (as shown in a Batman: TAS episode featuring this Hellenic hoodlum). Okay, so he steals the ancient Greek stuff, King Tut heists the Egyptian goods, Penguin nicks the Fabergé eggs and stuffed birds, Mr. Freeze scoops up the “ice” (diamonds), Catwoman helps herself to whatever’s left over… I’m starting to think the worst job in the world has to be Gotham City museum curator. B

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‘Mazing Man
This guy was a rare example of DC doing something different at a time when the industry was lurching heavily towards grim-and-gritty in search of older fans who demanded stone-faced seriousness in their books about flying strongmen in tights. ‘Mazing Man was a happily deranged little person named Sigfried Horatio Hunch III who wore a homemade superhero costume and patrolled the streets of his Queens, NY, neighborhood; his acts of heroism included cleaning leaves from a sewer grate and preventing a toddler from swallowing a cigarette butt (though to be fair he also once saved a child from an oncoming truck). Also, his best friend is a cartoonist with the head of a dog, which no one ever seemed to find odd or worth remarking on. Well worth tracking down. A-

Mento
The freshmaker! Actually, no, he’s a rich dude who invented a helmet that amplifies brain waves. He used it to become a superhero, but he later went nutso when he tried to use it to treat his cancer. This was confirmed when he attempted to do the standard rich-guy madman stuff: conduct illegal experiments on human subjects, disappear into the criminal underground, make a bid for the Florida Panthers… you know, crazy stuff. C+

Mera
Jee-bus, DC, we know the death of her only child is somewhat important in the life story of Aquaman’s wife, but did you have to show the kid’s corpse just lying there while she wails away? Most of her bio is about all the contrived ways she and Aquaman were kept apart until they weren’t, but their status as the lovable Sam and Diane of the underwater set is slightly overshadowed by the dead kid lying on the ground. Or floor. You know, whatever they call the stuff you stand on when you’re underwater. C

Mercenaries
“If you have a problem, if no one else can help — and if you can find them — maybe you can hire… the Mercenaries!” Cue shots of cars flipping over and bullets that never hit anyone. This trio of tough guys deserted from the Foreign Legion and appeared in later issues of G.I. Combat. Not sure why we’re supposed to root for guys who fight wars for money, but hey, one of them is American so obviously they only fight on the “good” side. Yeah, that must be it. D

Merlyn the Archer
He’s a master archer and therefore one of Green Arrow’s nemesises… nemeses… bad guys. Makes perfect sense. But here’s something that doesn’t: “Merlyn also wears a rocket pack in his quiver, which enables him to fly.” Come on, Ollie! If you have room for a boxing glove in your quiver, then you can damn well fit a rocket pack in there. You don’t want the other archers to think you’re not cool, do you? B

Merry, the Girl of a Thousand Gimmicks
Only in the Golden Age could they come up with a backstory this convoluted and contrived. Merry was the young daughter of a circus acrobat and part-time criminal who was sent to an orphanage when her father got caught. And then she was adopted by a rich family looking for a new playmate for their son, who just happened to grow up to become the Star-Spangled Kid. And then her father was blackmailed into pulling one last job, and he just happened to expire in a way that revealed the Kid’s secret identity to Merry, and so Merry decided to become a crimefighter just like her adopted big brother. Simpler times. Oddest part of her entry: “Merry depended on her quick wits, her athletic and gymnastic skills (undoubtedly inherited from her father), and the ingenious gimmicks she invented.” Undoubtedly, of course. Strength training? Hours of practice? Top-notch coaching? Pfft. Who needs all that when you can hit the streets knowing you inherited your daddy’s acrobat DNA? C

Metallo
Metallo is another character that typifies my love-hate relationship with comics. On the one hand, he’s an immensely one-note villain: androids and cyborgs are a dime a dozen in comic-book land, and his only plan of attack is “open up chest cavity; watch Superman squeal.” Not a whole lot to work with there, character-wise. But on the other hand, he’s Metallo, the Man with the Kryptonite Heart! Of course he’s going to attack Superman. What other career option does he have, selling Amway products? Plus, he flies around on a jet-scooter designed by the same criminal organization that arranged the “accident” that turned him into a cyborg, a jet-scooter he uses in his vendetta against both them and Superman. Tell me that’s not a little bit badass. C+

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Metal Men

Things you do not want to think about while reading stories about the Metal Men: (1) Dr. Magnus created Platinum first, dubbing her “Tina.” (2) She just happened to be a hot metal robot who was in love with her creator and constantly flirted with him. (3) Magnus took every opportunity to remind her she was just a cold machine and he could never love her, even though he clearly programmed her to feel emotions and designed her to show those emotions, right down to her artificial tear ducts. These stories seem a lot less whimsical and Silver Age-y when you realize it all started with a guy into BDSM trying to build the ultimate sex toy. On the other hand: no Metal Men, no Chemo. And dare we contemplate a world without Chemo? No, we dare not. C+

Metamorpho
Not a lot of text for this guy, a one-man periodic table forever stuck between DC’s B-list and C-list of heroes, which I don’t understand; it’s not like Jim Aparo used the extra space to show us the full range of Metamorpho’s shape-changing abilities (Look! He’s a hang-glider! And… that’s it, apparently). Typical “exposed to a meteor’s strange rays” origin here, until you get to this part: “Unknown to Mason, Stagg’s servant, the resurrected Neanderthal known as Java, had orders to maroon Mason in the Orb’s resting place.” Back up a second. First, how does a rich guy figure out a way to bring a Neanderthal back to life? Second, how does that not qualify as something that’s a big deal in the universe where they live? Third: “Stagg’s servant“…??? You commit God knows how many millions of dollars and who knows what scientific resources to bring back a member of an extinct humanoid species, and you’ve got him running your errands? C

Metron
Meh. I mean, I get what Kirby was doing here, using this New God to comment on the folly of science without morality and how the pursuit of knowledge can lead to devastating consequences when that knowledge is corrupted by those who wage war… but on the other hand, it’s a guy in a chair. Mind you, it’s a very nice chair that can travel though space, but still: guy in a chair. Of such things sagas are not made. C-

Midnight
“It is theorized that Midnight was inspired by reading of the adventures of a similar but more celebrated masked crime fighter.” Gee, ya think? Blue suit, fedora, domino mask, no super-powers, keen detective mind, racially insensitive sidekick — nope, doesn’t ring any bells. Maybe I’m just being picky and I should just get into the (ahem) spirit of things. Best line in all of Who’s Who: “Originally, Midnight wore a blue hat, black mask and black suit, but eventually he wore a blue mask and blue suit instead.” Fascinating. D

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Mindboggler

Looking at Mindboggler reminds me of the ironclad rule for depicting criminals in the ’80s: “Whenever street criminals are shown in a group, one of them will always sport a punk look: Mohawk, multiple piercings, etc.” She’s a super-villain created by the Assassination Bureau with the power to create incredible illusions, and yet her costume consisted of green leggings, red gloves and boots, and a torn half-shirt with “MB” written on the front, presumably with a Sharpie. This is what’s wrong with kids in the workforce these days. Use your expense account at J. Crew, dearie. Just because they’re assassins doesn’t mean they don’t have standards. C+

Mirage
Another nobody flung against the Dynamic Duo to give the real Gotham criminals a break in that month’s issue, Mirage wasn’t even given a name or suitably traumatic childhood incident to explain how or why he uses a “gem of unknown origin” to create illusions because who cares. Here’s the part that bugs me: “Mirage has no super-powers and has little skills at hand-to-hand combatant.” Why would you even set foot in Gotham as a costumed criminal without hitting the gym first? You go up against Batman with glorified Magic Eye puzzles and you don’t have something in your back pocket for when shit gets real? Dude! D

Mirror Master
Sam Scudder was an average convict working in a prison mirror factory (sure, why not?) when he discovered how to make mirrors produce all kinds of “incredible feats.” And with little more preamble than that, we’re off to the races. Here’s Mirror Master travelling between dimensions. How? Mirrors! Here’s Mirror Master creating 3-D objects out of thin air. How? Mirrors! Here’s Mirror Master physically swapping his legs with the Flash. How? Mirrors! Here’s Mirror Master seeing 20 seconds into the future. How? Good guess. Someone took that “they do it with mirrors” line way too seriously here. C-

Miss Liberty
Considering she’s a Revolutionary War-era heroine with at least 26 stars on her costume, she was either bad with numbers or optimistic about how the whole fighting-the-redcoats thing would turn out. Frontier nurse Bess Lynn took to masked insurgency to protect her brother, a captive in England at the time, from British reprisals. And it says a lot about her confidence in her ability to annoy the British that she went to the trouble of disguising her identity at a time when it took weeks for news to travel across the ocean — that is, assuming anyone who caught her could prove who she was, or could prove that she was in fact related to her imprisoned brother. She ended her career by being crushed to death by the Liberty Bell, which is probably not how she expected to check out. B-

Mist
He’s a scientist who invented an “inviso-solution” that could turn people, um, inviso-ble. But when he brought it to the military, they only laughed at him, so he became an embittered criminal leader who spent decades giving super-heroes grief. One: Why couldn’t the Army brass humor the guy and ask for a demonstration? Worst thing that happens is you’ve wasted an hour of your time. Two: Why would he stop after one rejection and go straight to crime as his Plan B? He can make things invisible! That should tweak the interest of someone in the private sector, no? Three: Repeated exposure to his solution gave him the power to move like a literal mist and greatly slowed down his aging process. Oh yeah, no one would be interested in anything like that. Best to stick to robbing banks, Mist, as that’s clearly the only way to recoup your investment.  C-

Mr. America
“Mr. America was a superb hand-to-hand combatant and a brilliant detective. He was also a skilled actor, enabling him to pose as Nazi officers.” Given his meticulously groomed moustache and choice of bullwhip as a weapon, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn he got a lot of practice “posing” as Nazi officers with his friends late at night, if you get my drift, and I know that you do. C-

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Mr. Atom

All I have to say is “Captain Marvel villain” and you know where this is heading, don’t you? Don’t worry, we’re getting there. “They Call Me Mister” Atom was a vaguely dildo-shaped, atomic-powered robot brought to life by a scientist who didn’t read much Asimov; he teamed up with comet dwellers (yes, you heard right) to conquer us squishy meat-bag types. Nothing a drop kick into an uninhabited galaxy couldn’t cure. “Mr. Atom has a brilliant mind but he is untinged with human feeling.” Same with half the world’s IT workforce, but you don’t see them killing UN delegates to prove it. D+

Mr. E
Oh! “Mister E.” And his real name is unrevealed. I get it now! (eye roll) Despite the Scooby Doo-worthy pun, this guy actually sounds like an interesting character: a blind man who fights supernatural menaces with his alleged ability to see the good and evil in each person’s soul. There isn’t much here about his background, but he lives in Boston so we can at least assume he’s a Red Sox fan. Stories published after Who’s Who revealed more details of his past, like how he came to be blind. Let’s just say it’s a good thing he came of age before Redtube was a thing. B-

Mr. Element
He’s a Flash villain with a gun that transmutes elements, and somehow the writers managed to shoehorn into his backstory a split personality, time travel, “evil-enhancing radiation,” the Philosopher’s Stone, a second completely different criminal identity, the “pulsating energy of a distant star” influencing one Earthling’s mood swings, demon possession, and evil psychic twins. I swear I am not making any of this up. If people ever ask you why Flash isn’t a big movie star like Batman, this might be why. Silver Age Flash comics are so intentionally weird and packed with far-fetched elements they make David Lynch films look like IKEA assembly instruction manuals. D+

Mr. Freeze
This guy owes Paul Dini and Bruce Timm a really nice bouquet and thank-you card for giving him an actual, heart-tugging backstory. Prior to Batman: TAS’s “Heart of Ice,” Mr. Freeze had no first name, no suspended-animation wife, nada — just some unspecified accident in his past and a need to live in cold environments. And he plunders Gotham while trying to plunge it into an ice age because…. well, because he’s Mr. Freeze, that’s why! The art shows a rendition of his then-current outfit, modified to reflect the look of the Mr. Freeze figure in the 1980s Super Powers action figure line. It wasn’t one of their better ideas. If we were assessing the post-Batman: TAS character, I’d have no problem giving him an A. But we’re not, so… C-

Mr. Mind/Mr. Mind’s Monster Society of Evil
Okay, strap yourselves in, people, because it’s about to get surreal. As most comic fans know, Captain Marvel and his peeps first appeared in comics published by Fawcett; at one point, the Big Red Cheese was even outselling Superman, and DC couldn’t have that. After the dust settled, Fawcett was out of the comic-book business and DC had a whole bunch of new characters to add to its stable, some of them (like Captain Marvel) worth the money they threw at their lawyers, and some of them…well, not. Let’s begin:

MR. MIND. One of Cap’s most persistent enemies, he was eventually convicted of a horrific 186,744 murders, only to escape execution to plague humanity again and again. With his great mental powers and capacity for evil, Mr. Mind is easily one of the greatest threat to human– wait a second, he’s a three-inch-long alien silkworm? Nuck that foise. D

CAPTAIN NAZI, SIVANA, THE DUMMY, MR. ATOM. See individual Who’s Who entries.

BLACK ADAM. Easily Cap’s arch-nemesis (and yet inexplicably denied his own Who’s Who entry), the man once known as Teth-Adam was the original inheritor of Shazam’s power; he later turned evil and had to be banished to the farthest reaches of the universe. It’s a familiar HR process to anyone who watches The View. B-

CROCODILE MEN. They’re men who look like crocodiles. You were maybe expecting something different? C-

EVIL-EYE. A green-tinged bald monster with hypnotic powers. Every woman’s dream come true. D

GOAT-MAN. The first to join Mr. Mind in setting up his Monster Society of Evil. Notable tasks included sending out the invitations, refilling the coffee pot, and folding up the chairs after everyone had left. C-

IBAC. Originally a small-time crook named Stinky Printwhistle, he sells his soul to the devil for the evil powers of Ivan the Terrible, Cesare Borgia, Attila the Hun and Caligula. All of whom, note, had squat in terms of actual super-powers. It was one of the devil’s better moments. D

JEEPERS. An intelligent bat-monster who’s the last of his race. Tragic, but still doesn’t excuse hanging with these losers. D

KING KULL. Survivor of an ancient race that enslaved early humans, he escaped when they revolted and later woke up after a long bout of suspended animation in our modern times intent on destroying humanity. He has a club. This should be interesting. D

MR. BANJO. “Hmmm, let’s see. I’ve got Cap’s greatest nemesis, a remorseless super-Nazi, a demonically powered strongman, the world’s greatest evil scientist… oh hey, let’s also get that guy who uses his banjo to send military secrets to the Nazis!” D

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MR. WHO. Hands down the dumbest name for a super-villain. When Roy Thomas brought back the Monster Society in an issue of All-Star Squadron, he had Dr. Fate and Hourman do an Abbott-and-Costello routine with Mr. Who’s name. That’s how dumb it is. D-

NIPPO FROM NAGASAKI. No, that’s really what it says here, and kudos to DC for acknowledging its racist roots. He’s a Japanese spy who specialized in blackmailing Japanese-Americans to assist him. “He may have been in his native city when it was hit by the second atomic bomb strike.” Translation: take a good look at this page because it’s the last time you’ll ever see this guy. D-

NYOLA. The sole woman in the line-up, she carries a sword and… that’s all we get. She’s a weather witch of some kind. Good for her. C-

OGGAR. A former disciple of Shazam’s who attained godhood and revolted against his master, he was banished and cursed with cloven hooves instead of feet. “He has no power to harm women with his magic.” Sending them into fits of laughter when the toga comes off, that’s another matter. D

OOM. Big grey guy who lists “beating the crap out of his enemies” among his hobbies on his eHarmony profile. D

RAMULUS. Some sort of human-plant hybrid wizard. Not that you’d know that from this shockingly Ramulus-light entry; I had to glean that bit of info from the interconnected network, or “Internet” as the youngsters call it. Advantage: future. D

Mr. Miracle
When Kirby gets it right, he gets it right. Yes, “Scott Free” is a bit of a groaner as names go, but this was one of the better products of Jack’s Fourth World days. And the best part is, he’s not technically a superhero, just a guy who wants nothing to do with the war in the “old country” and flees to Earth, where he becomes the protegé of a flamboyant escape artist whose act and costume he eventually inherits. Alas, his desire for a quiet life of show business and marriage is often challenged by “the family” dropping by and forcing him to deal with their personal baggage, which none of us can relate to, I’m sure. He just wants to be free. Nothing wrong with that. A-

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Mr. Mxyztplk / Mr. Mxyzptlk

Get it straight: Mxyztplk is the guy in the bowler hat and purple suit; Mxyzptlk is the guy with the smaller bowler hat and orange outfit. Also, Mr. Mxyzptlk is from the magical fifth-dimensional land of Zrfff, but it’s “not the same Zrfff” as the Zrfff that Mr. Mxyztplk is from. There are people who actually worry about these things. Whichever spelling you choose, the best part about Mxy is how, for all practical intents and purposes, he’s God. Superman can’t fight him or coerce him into going away when he shows up; his only option is to play along with whatever bullshit rules Mxy comes up with, and hope he leaves. You don’t want to overload on Mxy — a little goes a long way — and you definitely don’t want to go the “grim and gritty” route with him, because an evil Mxyzptlk would mean game over for the entire DCU (in fact, there was a fun story a while back that suggested Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite destroy and re-create all of DC’s realities on a regular basis as part of a game). Maybe that’s why I like this guy so much — he’s a good reminder it’s all just lines on paper, and taking any of it too seriously is kind of missing the point. A

Mr. Tawky Tawny
Sigh. I know I risk sounding like a hypocrite for saying what I just said about not taking things too seriously, but… seriously, people? A goddamn talking, cane-sporting, plaid jacket-wearing tiger named Mister Tawky Tawny? His evolved status came about when, as a young tiger cub in India, he was experimented on by a hermit Dr. Moreau type; his desire to see the world led him to Fawcett City where he became Captain Marvel’s buddy. And then, just as I can’t take any more whimsy, they hit me with the racism: “When he moved into a house, Tawny came up against prejudice, as many people didn’t like the idea of a tiger living in their neighborhood.” We’ll, that’s just great. Not only am I a hypocrite, I’m a racist, too. Hey, some of my best friends are talking tigers, all right? And I’m a guy who’s saying that on the Internet, so you know it’s true. C-

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