Making the Grade: Who’s Who, Vol. XVIII

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We’re 18 and finally legal! Welcome back to our weekly look at the 1980s comic phenomenon Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe. This week: Volume Ecks-Vee-Eye-Eye-Eye, from Phantom Girl to Pursuer. 

I’ve dubbed this issue the “Sexy Lady Issue” because there seem to be a high number of fetching lasses in this issue, and I’m too lazy to do the research required to determine if this issue actually does have more sexy ladies per capita than other Who’s Who issues. So, enjoy. 

The cover is your usual top-notch Pérez/Giordano co-production, but eagle-eyed observers might notice a certain character missing in the index. Prez, a.k.a. America’s first teen president, was the star of a delightfully insane series that only lasted for four issues in 1973, and he would have appeared between Predator and Primus if he had made the cut. But according to this issue’s letters column: 

“Before you write and complain that we left out your most favorite DC character of all — PREZ — please be aware that it was a hotly debated entry… We took the problem to the highest authority around, Executive Editor Dick Giordano, and he said ‘Nah, drop him!’ So he’s out. If you have a problem, write to Dick directly, at his request.”

Mr. Giordano died in 2010, so any angry e-mails sent his way on this topic will likely go unanswered. No doubt he heard from a few outraged Prez fans when this issue first came out. Because comic fans? They can be a little opinionated about stuff like this, when they feel like it. No, for real. 

Onward!

 

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Phantom Girl

Sexy Lady #1 is the Legion’s resident ghost girl, though to be fair she’s less of a ghost and more an occasionally intangible denizen of an other-dimensional land called Bgtzl (which I always wanted to pronounce as “Bigtizzle,” though now that I think about it that sounds like the name of a very naughty website). Art chores are handled by Jaime Hernandez of Love and Rockets fame, a fellow known for drawing his share of foxy women with personalities. Ultra Boy is a lucky, lucky man. A

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Phantom Lady

Sexy Lady #2 is drawn by the late, great Dave Stevens, and you know what that means: we’re all heading down to the Cheesecake Factory! After D.C. socialite Sandra Knight fought off her senator father’s attackers one night, she decided she wanted to contin– Hey! Yo! Over here! You’re not going to learn any facts staring at her nipples like that, pal. Oh, fine, go ahead. It’s only your education we’re talking about here, that’s all. B+

Phantom Stranger
Back in the ’80s, when DC published its Secret Origins series, it offered four different origin tales for how the Phantom Stranger came to be. None of the stories was posited as the “true” origin, and that’s just fine, because the Stranger is supposed to be, well, a stranger. It’s not important where he came from or why he does what he does; what’s important is simply that he exists — because when you think about it, he’s actually the living embodiment of the idea that the universe actually gives a damn about us. He shows up whenever someone is in crisis, offers his counsel, then leaves that person to make his or her own decisions. He might very well possess all the power needed to fix everyone’s problems, but he won’t do that because he knows there’s even more power in the triumph of finding your own way. Sure, a movie starring a guy in a white turtleneck and opera cloak who goes around offering advice, Mary Worth style, might not rake in Guardians of the Galaxy-level dough. But that’s beside the point: a universe with no room for a guy like this is a universe that has given up on hope. And no one wants that. A

Phantom Zone
Do Faora and Az-Rel count as sexy ladies? Considering Faora was sentenced for torturing men to death just because they were men, probably not. This is the extra-dimensional limbo familiar to Superman fans as Krypton’s preferred method for dealing with its most heinous criminals, the vilest of the vile who deserved nothing more than existence as disembodied spirits in a hellish — okay, wait a goddamned second here. Fine, okay, we’ve got miscreants who blew up populated moons and fired up earthquake-causing machines, I get that. But then we’ve also got inmates like Kru-El (gun running), Ak-Var (petty thievery), Quex-Ul (poaching rare animals), and Va-Kox (accidental pollution of a lake while conducting experiments). And then there’s Xa-Du, sentenced for conducting cruel and unusual medical experiments, which was apparently a crime on Krypton if your name wasn’t Jor-El. Cripes, even General Zod gets a bum rap, since his only crime was trying to take over Krypton with an army of Bizarro duplicates, which sounds more entertaining than threatening. (“Me am Bizarro Zod! Me played by serious British actor John Cleese! Stand behind Bizarro Zod!”) C+

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Phobia

Sexy Lady (in a bad girl way) #3 is Angela Hawkins, a British aristocrat who discovered at an early age she had the power to instill unreasoning fear in other people. Meh, show me a high-class British lady who doesn’t. There’s documented evidence of Dame Maggie Smith reducing Navy SEALs to a quivering mess with just one arched eyebrow. Anyway, Angela joined the Brotherhood of Evil because she was bored with her life and wanted a chance to really let loose with her powers. Frankly, I’d need a little more incentive than that before I time-share with a gun-toting gorilla, a brain in a jar and an ambulatory pile of snot, but to each their own. C

Pied Piper
No sexy ladies here, but Hartley Rathaway is, like Ms. Hawkins, both incredibly rich and in possession of the power to bend others to his will. And this made him sad because (cue violins) life became too easy for him. OH CRY ME A RIVER, YOU ONE-NOTE ONE PERCENTER. Ahem. What I meant to say was, this Flash villain was obsessed with sounds and figured out a way to create music that could hypnotize people and make them act in strange and unusual ways. And suddenly Kenny G’s musical career makes a lot more sense. C-

Pig-Iron
What I love about this entry for the designated strong guy in Captain Carrot’s Zoo Crew is this part: “Known relatives: None (but we haven’t read all the Peter Porkchops story lately).” See, all the characters in Scott Shaw’s superhero funny-animal book were brand new except for Pig-Iron; he was once Peter Porkchops, one of the minor stars from DC’s Golden Age humor titles (other funny animals from those early days, including Peter’s neighbour Wolfie, would later make guest-star appearances in the series). But one dip in a meteor-irradiated vat of molten steel is all it took to turn him into Pig-Iron, the Porcine Powerhouse! Anyway, I love that bit in parentheses because it was the editors’ way of saying, “Look, we know one of you nerds out there is sitting on every Peter Porkchops story ever printed and can’t wait to tell us how wrong we are, because he’s actually got an Uncle Perky and an Aunt Penelope according to Who Gives a Crap Quarterly #23, so we’re going to admit right now we didn’t read every issue of every goddamned Disney rip-off we ever put out, okay? Okay??” Those editors were a touchy bunch. C

Plasmus
Anyone out there remember Pizza the Hut from Spaceballs? Or the talking trash heap from Fraggle Rock? Yeah, like that. Otto Von Furth was just another hard-working German miner when a cave-in trapped him with some “highly radioactive radium.” This being a comic book, he didn’t die a horrible, painful death, but was rescued and then kidnapped from his hospital room by an evil Nazi general, who turned him into a being composed of unstable protoplasm that could burn living tissue with a touch — and still look incredibly ripped while wearing a Speedo. Seriously, what’s up with that? And are we supposed to believe his wang also burns on contact? Because I can think of several scenarios in which that would really, really suck. C

Plastic Man
I remember a lot of things about Plastic Man. I remember the first comic story I ever saw him in, with a gangster who had a trowel for a hand. I remember the Hostess ad where he took the shape of a dessert cart. I remember the Saturday morning cartoon with Penny and Baby Plas, and I remember how disappointed I was when his Super Powers action figure could only extend his neck to demonstrate his shape-changing powers. I remember a great stand-alone story in the 1990s JLA series teaming “Plas” up with Batman. But what I most remember is finding a book with Jack Cole’s original Plastic Man stories and being blown away by the imagination that went into every page. I have a lot of good memories of this character. You did good, Jack. A+

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Plastique

Sexy Lady #4 is this Québécois cutie, a terrorist whom Firestorm once disarmed by evaporating every inch of ordnance-toting clothing off her body, leaving her as naked as un oiseau de jay. And why was she doing all that terrorizing? Why, she wanted independence from Canada for her French-speaking province, of course. And why did she target the American newspaper office where Firestorm’s father happened to work? Because his newspaper bought its newsprint from Quebec paper mills and… she didn’t like that because… creating jobs for paper mill workers is bad because… um, capitalist running dogs… look, just buy the comic, okay? And if you don’t, we’ll remove the clothing from three more sexy people every hour until our demands are met! B-

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Poison Ivy

Sexy Lady #5 is Miss Pamela Isley, the floral femme fatale perpetually pitting her pernicious poisons, perfidious pollens and prickly posies against the Dynamic Duo. She has it all going on: a stunning and theme-appropriate costume, a cold and calculating mind, a nice thematic “hook” that ties in nicely with her backstory, and the kind of natural (pun intended) sex appeal that would have made her an awesome guest villain on the old Batman show. It’s a shame no one thought to tart up Ann-Margret in some leaves and green leggings, but Uma Thurman will do in a pinch. Alas, she wasn’t appealing enough when it counted: “She found herself face to face with the Batman, and her attempts to vamp him failed.” How come no one tries to vamp me? I’m not even sure what that means, but I’m pretty sure I’d like it. A

Polar Boy
He’s a native of the planet Tharr who, like all people there, evolved the ability to “project intense cold” and saw this as his ticket into the Legion of Super-Heroes. And it was… eventually. He was rejected the first time on the grounds he couldn’t control his power as well as he could, so he went and joined the Legion of Substitute Heroes, leading that group until even he could see how lame they were and he begged the Legion for a second chance. Nothing terribly wrong about him — nothing terribly right, either — though I’m sure a few physicists out there have something to say about the notion that anyone could “project intense cold,” as if cold was a quantifiable substance and not the specific absence of heat. And don’t forget the evolutionary biologists who might have something to say about the idea that humans could naturally develop this power through evolution. Oh, we’ll get all the smart people riled up before we’re done here tonight. C-

Power Girl
Sexy Lady #6 is… well, not that sexy-looking here, to be honest. Joe Staton is a talented guy, but I submit that drawing hot babes has never been his strong suit. You younger readers might not recognize her from the artwork with her entry, so here’s a more recent image of her to jog your memory…

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Yeah, it’s all coming back to you now, isn’t it? Power Girl started out as the Supergirl of Earth-2, but then DC smooshed all its fictional worlds together and poor P.G. was left without an origin or reason for existing. They tried a couple of ideas over the years; nothing really stuck. Then they made her Mr. Terrific’s hot, non-powered girlfriend in his series. Sounds about right. D+

Pow-Wow Smith, Indian Lawman
Wow, a member of the Sioux nation becomes a sheriff in the white man’s world in the 1880s and the townspeople take to calling him “Pow-Wow Smith”…? And he starts calling himself that when he’s dealing with the white folks who can’t possibly be expected to think of them Injuns as, like, people with their own names and cultures and everything? Even for the 1950s, this feels a bit… insensitive. Me, I’m more put out by the artwork by Carmine Infantino, who seems intent on sleepwalking his way through every page he contributes to this project. Don’t believe me? Here’s the art for Pow-Wow Smith…

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…and Heat Wave…

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…and Weather Wizard…

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…and Captain Boomerang…

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…and Reactron…

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See a pattern? Arms akimbo, feet spread out, bodiless head floating in the corner, obligatory action scene in the back. RIP, Carmine, you did a lot of good when you were with us, but man… you put stuff like this next to what some of the newer artists were doing with their Who’s Who assignments, and there’s just no comparison. D+

Prankster
Sad to say, there isn’t much here about Oswald Loomis’s personal history, certainly nothing about why he chose to use lethal pranks and practical jokes as his calling card — though I’m sure the popularity of a certain Clown Prince of Crime at the time had something to do with that. I don’t know, I can see acid-squirting flowers giving a guy in a bat-suit a workout, but Superman? “He is a man respected and even feared by fellow criminals,” or so we’re told, but somehow those fellow criminals never figured out a spring-loaded bow tie is no match against a high-powered rifle from 100 meters away. Or yards, if you want to get all imperial. D

Predator
Wow. I mean… wow. Okay, so Carol Ferris, who is Green Lantern’s girlfriend, one day found herself shut out of her company by her own father at the same time that Hal chose his space cop job over her and flew off into space and out of her life, probably forever. Sucks, right? But her rage and despair was so great it somehow caused her to split into two people: Carol and the Predator, whom she regarded as the embodiment as her “masculine, aggressive side of her personality.” And as soon as he’s “born,” the Predator tries to… make out with Carol? Um, did someone just sneak a masturbation reference past the Comics Code Authority? Weird psycho-sexual subtext aside, it wouldn’t be a Green Lantern villain if he wasn’t pathetically under-equipped to take on our hero: no super-powers, no yellow costuming, just some steel talons, better-than-average build and space-magic mind-control powers. Oh, and also the rope. How could I forget the rope? You can’t go up against a guy wearing the most powerful weapon in the universe on his finger without some rope! D-

Primus
So remember last week when I said the Omega Men had a lot in common, theme-wise, with Star Wars? Meet our Luke Skywalker. Born to modest means in a rural farming area, brought to a master of ancient magic who saw in him great power, almost singlehandedly deals a crushing blow to an evil empire despite his inexperience… you know the drill. He started out as a strapping Fabio lookalike but later morphed into a more impish Billy Idol impersonator, only with orange hair. I don’t imagine either of those references mean much to anyone born after 1985. C-

Prince Ra-Man, Mind Master
Where do I even begin? Well, he died during Crisis on Infinite Earths and no one was in a huge rush to bring him back, probably because his origin is so confusing. He’s the nephew of a stage magician who went around exposing magical frauds, but when his uncle died he left a message about his death being caused by something truly supernatural, and so Ra-Man spends his life solving occult mysteries, and then he’s transported to a distant planet where he meets immortal scientists from ancient Egypt, who send him back to Earth back in the body of an Egyptian prince… It’s all a bit too silly, especially for a guy whose name reminds me of the noodles that served as my sole food source for about four months in college. D

Privateer
“I’m a broken man on a Halifax pier, the last of Barrett’s privateers.” Here’s all you need to know about Mark Shaw. When he was recruited by the star-spanning Manhunters, he got a nifty baton that “fires powerful energy blasts.” When that deal soured and he set out as a solo act, he called himself the Star-Tsar and used weaponry that “fires stellar energy” (whatever the hell that means). As the Privateer, a faux-heroic identity he took on to fool the Justice League, he “wields a sword.” No, that’s it: he wields a sword. Oh, and he wore an eyepatch “only as an affectation” because God knows the last thing a sword fighter needs is unobstructed peripheral vision. D

Professor Amos Fortune
This guy oozes the Silver Age from every sweaty pore. He’s an evil scientist who’s obsessed with luck, which the writers back then used as a catch-all excuse for whatever crazy idea they came up with that month. He invents a de-memorizer that wipes out people’s memories. Why? Luck. Then he discovers a form of stellar energy (again with the stellar energy; the writers knew it’s also known as “sunlight,” right?) that somehow affects cards and he harnesses this energy to make people do his bidding because… um, luck? He also formed the first Royal Flush Gang, which is somewhat impressive, but mostly he’s a fat guy in a robe who builds stuff and causes trouble because luck. Bleh. D+

Professor Hugo Strange
In recent years, Hugo Strange has proven himself quite useful to Batman writers in need of an evil psychiatrist for their stories, but he didn’t start out that way. In the early days, he was a “criminal scientist” who used monster-inducing chemicals and fear-inducing dust in his schemes to loot Gotham and/or take over the world. Just another evil egghead in the Golden Age’s rapidly saturating market, in other words. So kudos to him for seeing the value in re-branding himself as a felonious head-shrinker, because if there ever were a city with plenty of growth opportunities in that field, it’s Gotham. B

Professor Ivo
“Desiring unlimited power and wealth, Professor Ivo decided the first goal should be to achieve immortality.” Wait, the first item on his to-do list is immortality? That’s… ambitious. So part of his plan for achieving everlasting life is building a super-android with the power to imitate all the powers of the Justice League. No, don’t question the logic, just accept he’s way smarter than any of us. Except maybe not, because the immortality serum he comes up with turns him into a hideous freak, and he realizes too late that immortality sucks if you can’t get laid. “He prefers to use androids for his dirty work.” Wouldn’t we all. C-

Professor Milo
Milo showed up in the Batman and Justice League cartoons whenever an ethically challenged biochemist was needed for the script, but let’s be honest — anyone could have worn the same white lab coat and Moe-from-Three-Stooges haircut in those appearances and it wouldn’t have made a lick of difference. His comic-book career isn’t anything to write home about, either; one of his schemes involved getting appointed head of Arkham Asylum just so he could release patients to commit crimes for him. Two things: (1) the recruitment people at Arkham must be the world’s worst HR professionals and (2) releasing mentally disturbed people to do your criminal bidding? Why, it’s practically foolproof! Yes, nothing could possibly go wrong with that scheme. D+

Proty I / Proty II
Just so we’re clear: the first non-speaking, faceless ball of snot from the 30th century is totally different from the second non-speaking, faceless ball of snot, who we’re told has “great charisma” despite the whole faceless-ball-of-snot thing. Hence the need for two separate entries showing two identical featureless lumps. This made the cut, but Prez didn’t. Thanks a lot, Dick. D

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Psi
Sexy Lady #7? Maybe in someone else’s hands, but not here. This is another Infantino original with all the elements I mentioned above, right down to the background art that shows her face… which seems a tad unnecessary since we can clearly see her face in the main artwork, but I guess Infantino was in a groove. She’s another forgettable Supergirl villain who isn’t really a villain, just a young woman with incredible psychokinetic powers who was led astray by a nutso university researcher. You’d think she would have figured out just how nutso he was when he told her to put on that Leia-slave-bikini outfit, but apparently not. She was later killed off in one of the Suicide Squad’s more ambitious culling of the herd. No great loss. D+

Psimon
Is there a story out there in which this guy appears and the line “Psimon says… DIE!” is used? If not, I’m sadly disappointed. This Teen Titans foe used his massive brain to mentally command people, cast telepathic illusions, perform feats of telekinesis, the whole 8.2296 meters (or nine yards if you’re still using measurement systems based on mouldy British body parts). And I don’t mean massive in the figurative sense; his brain was so huge he had a giant transparent dome for a skull to hold it all inside. That’s… kind of gross. But give the man points for presentation. C

Psions
Reason #47 why the Guardians aren’t all that and a stack of Pringles. This race of amoral scientists started out as lizards that were forcibly evolved by the people that would later become the Guardians of the Universe. Billions of years later, they caught up to their creators and asked to be accepted as equals, but the rightfully disgusted Guardians banished them to a remote sector until they achieved comprehension, whatever the hell that means. So the Psions were sent to the Vega system and whoa, hey now! “Guys, check out all these fun sentient species just ripe for torture and vivisection!” Suffice to say that comprehension thing hasn’t quite sunk in yet. C

Psycho-Pirate
There were two Psycho-Pirates; nobody cares about the first. The second had the Medusa Masks, which gave him the power to cause other people to experience whatever emotion he portrayed with his facial expressions. Why did something named after Medusa affect emotions instead of turn people into stone? Good question! But instead of answering that query, I’d like to talk about my first encounter with this guy. It was in an issue of Justice League of America, and he was part of a super-villain team-up gunning for the League and the Justice Society; his assignment was to take down Hourman, which he did by making the hero go to sleep with a sleepy-bye expression. Woo-hoo! Can you take all this excitement, people? C-

Pulsar Stargrave
Has anyone done anything recently with this guy? Because he looks like he has a lot of storytelling potential. He’s a Legion baddie with no established origin, other than he may or may not have some connection to Brainiac Five. He’s listed as a conqueror and considered one of the big bad threats to the United Planets, and he’s demonstrated powers “consistent with his claim to control the energies of a living star” — so that obviously puts him in the Legion’s big leagues. Plus, he got a great look (all white and Roman-ish attire, suggesting a touch of regalness, but also utilitarian and stripped down, to show he can get his hands dirty if needed), and tell me that name doesn’t scream comic-book awesomeness. Come on, if they can revamp that Black Hand douche into a Big Bad Scary for some half-baked crossover, then they can damn well do something fun with this guy. A-

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Punch and Jewelee
Our final Sexy Lady (made doubly so with art by Arthur Adams) is Jewelee, one-half of the criminal team that bedeviled Captain Atom. How did they get their start? Well, like most master criminals, they started out as puppeteers. Then one night, as they were hanging out on the beach at Coney Island, a box washed up on the shore right next to them. Inside were flying boots and hypno-gems and all kinds of other alien technology, including a “mind recorder device” that explained how to work everything. What luck! And only one degree more believable than having all that space-magic stuff just fall out of their asses! Anyway, once armed for battle they do the only rational thing they can: they charmed construction workers to build a secret lair for them under Coney Island and kidnapped scientists to drain their minds and sell their secrets to foreign powers. “Both are adequate hand-to-hand combatants because of their careers.” I had no idea puppeteering was a contact sport. C-

Pursuer
He’s Devilance the Pursuer. He’s a bad guy. Who pursues people. While holding a lance. Subtlety, thy name ain’t Kirby. C

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