Time once again to take our weekly look at Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe. This week: Volume Ecks-Ecks, from Rubberduck to Shining Knight, and boy howdy does that sound like a fun team-up for an issue of DC Comics Presents.
Twenty feels like it should be a big deal. It’s a round number! The start of a whole new decade of your life! But if you’re Canadian, you were allowed to drink back when you turned 19, and if you’re American you don’t get to join the club until you’re 21 (and really, what’s up with that, guys?). We have Sweet 16 parties, make a big deal out of turning 30… but 20 is just, well, there.
That’s kind of how I feel about this issue of Who’s Who. Nothing offensive, nothing spectacular, just… there. Sgt. Rock takes centre stage on the cover, and that makes sense given his status as the biggest star in DC’s war comics line… not that I can say I was ever really into the war stuff. As for the rest of the characters here — well, it’s an eclectic bunch, let’s leave it at that.
Paris Cullins and Dick Giordano take over the art chores for this month’s cover, inserting a few delightfully odd touches like Sandman sleep-gassing Sabbac and the Shaggy Man inexplicably holding a magnifying glass while Scalphunter measures him up for a scalping. Not sure why they decided Old Man Scowly-Face deserved such a big spot at the bottom of the front cover, though.
A member of Captain Carrot’s Amazing Zoo Crew, Rubberduck was actually “Byrd Rentals” in his civilian identity, a famous actor who starred in such hits as Smoke-Eye and the Panda and The Canine-Bull Run alongside such “Follywood” beauties as Loni Antelope, Fara Foxette and Sally Fieldmouse. Yes, there’s quite a lot of this in the Captain Carrot books, I’m afraid. There’s also the insanity of no one ever realizing that Rubberduck and Rentals are the same person, despite the fact (a) the only thing Rubberduck wears to disguise his very famous movie-star face is a diving mask and (b) Rubberduck constantly plugs movies starring his civilian identity while on the job. If you’ve ever struggled with the task of making one of your own cartoon ducks look like a self-serving asshat, then I submit you allow Scott Shaw to be your guide. C-
The Tina Yothers of Tamaran’s royal family (and bless you, spirit brother/sister, for getting that reference), ol’ Ryan was the younger, less goal-oriented sibling of Blackfire and Starfire, too unimportant to even rate a cool fire-suffixed codename (my nomination: Spitfire). Yet he found a home with the Omega Men, tying that group of interstellar freedom fighters to the Teen Titans media juggernaut of the early to mid-1980s. It probably didn’t work out for the Omega Men as well as they hoped. C-
For a guy with the power of six unholy demons backing him up, you’d think this doofus with a Simpsons overbite would have aimed a little higher in the wardrobe department than “Gargamel’s hand-me-downs.” But you know how the saying goes: “Once a feeb, always a feeb.” From his bio: “Tim Karnes was a nobody who wanted to be somebody; therefore, he began to dabble in black magic.” Well, yes, that explains the actions of a lot of teen Goths and heavy-metal enthusiasts, too, but you don’t see them getting all up in Captain Marvel Jr.’s grill about it. D
Not the Sandman you’re thinking about, this is actually Wesley Dodds, Golden Age adventurer and righter of wrongs who came in two varieties: original, gas-mask-and-business-suit version, and the later-model purple-and-yellow-Spandex-with-kid-sidekick version. No prizes for guessing which one I lean towards. Dodds was unique in that he shared his secret identity with his girlfriend, who was more of an equal partner in his exploits than certain yammering reporters I could mention. Seriously, check out Sandman Mystery Theatre; you’ll be glad you did. B+
Again, not the Sandman you’re thinking about, though Neil Gaiman’s version did a particularly brutal deconstruction of this character, completely retconning him out of existence. This “guardian of the Dream Dimension” used his “Dream Monitor,” “Dream Dome,” “Dream Stream” and (ahem) “Dream Ejector Tube” to prevent the creatures living in our nightmares from entering our reality. Not one of Kirby’s better concepts, let’s just leave it at that. D+
Sandy the Golden Boy
This curly-haired tyke was the ward of the original Sandman. One day, “hoping it would help them in fighting crime,” the Sandman invented a “silicoid gun” that accidentally blew up, transforming Sandy into “a gigantic, insane monster.” GOLLY GEE WILLIKERS, SANDMAN, THANKS A BUNCH! And then, because that wasn’t traumatizing enough, Sandman placed Sandy’s monstrous form in a glass prison, only to realize years later “that he had regained his sanity soon after his transformation,” and Sandman had kept him locked up all that time for nothing. This is why 9 out of 10 heroes in a recent poll put “confirmed orphan” at the top of their sidekick requirements, even ahead of “willingness to wear bright colors” and “no bitching about body armor.” C-
This guy covers all the tough guy archetypes — tough-as-nails army sergeant, unstoppable secret agent, incorruptible private eye — and he stands out from the other he-men of the world by having his injured left hand replaced with a clenched fist made of steel. That seems… impractical, but I don’t think I want to be the one to tell him that. Notable enemies included Communist saboteur Ivan Chong (which makes about as much sense as a current-day terrorist named Kim Jong bin Laden, but let’s just go with it), Nazi war criminal Von Wess, the Smiling Skull, the Black Lily and Liza Monelli. Wait… her? Aw, she was great as Lucille Two on Arrested Development. C
Sargon the Sorcerer
There’s a lot of blather here about mystical rubies and Aztecs and archaeologists but you know what? He was a sorcerer. Who pretended to be a stage magician. And now he’s dead. There, you now know everything you need to know about him. C-
The Legion of Super-Heroes has included many female members over the years who were interesting, complex, alluring, badass, you name it. Sad to say, I never found Saturn Girl to be any of those. Maybe there’s a recent reboot I haven’t read that gives the character her proper due, but I’ve never thought of her as anywhere near as interesting as, say, Shadow Lass or Shrinking Violet. It’s not her fault; mental powers are hard to convey on the printed page, and her role as one of the original three Legionnaires (and as Legion leader in its early days) means she was often thrown into the mentor/schoolmarm roles that emphasized duty, responsibility, maturity… you know, all the fun stuff. Sweet gal, but she needed much better scripts. For crying out loud, at one point her infant son was kidnapped by Darkseid, tossed back in time and turned into a giant monster to fight the Legion, and even that didn’t make her interesting. C-
Or maybe it’s because I like the bad girls. Not that I’d ever call Saturn Queen (“We treat you right!”) a girl — certainly not to her face. This evil, grown-up version of Saturn Girl comes complete with a snazzy retro-1950s space outfit, and you gotta love the background art showing her as she stops Superman cold with her hypnotic powers while two of her Legion of Super-Villains colleagues stand off to the side. “That’s right, boys. Just stay out of the way while a woman shows you how it’s done.” Oh, yeah. B
You know, considering how scalping was actually practiced more often by white settlers against Native Americans, it’s fitting that this Western lawman was a white man kidnapped as an infant by Kiowa warriors and raised as one of their own. He later found out who his real family was thanks to a birthmark on his neck that told them who he was. When he wasn’t confused about which world he belonged in, he did the usual Western lawman stuff: clearing his name by finding the real killers, foiling plots to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, etc. He probably should have stayed on that last one a little longer. C-
Love, love, love this guy — and not just because I might identify a little too much with guys who were bespectacled bookworms in their youth. Psychology professor Jonathan Crane decided to turn a lifelong fascination with fear into a lucrative second career as a thief and extortionist, using mind-altering drugs and gases to turn his victims into whimpering crybabies. Tell me that doesn’t sound like the perfect Batman victim. And so educational, too; my younger self didn’t even know there was a word for the fear of cats (ailurophobia) until he came along. Too bad he never branched out into other crippling emotions. Hey! Let’s make him head of a Legion of Evil Therapists that uses self-doubt, anxiety, depression, ennui and passive-aggressiveness to battle our heroes: “Whatever, hero. I’ll fight you if that’s what you want — no, really, it’s fine with me. You want to be childish about it, I’m not going to stop you.” A
This Aquaman villain is as generic as they come — not even a fishing rod sproing-ing out of his genital region, if you can believe it — but he’s worth noting here for two reasons. First, his height and weight are listed as 5’9″ and 176 pounds, but the art clearly shows a guy possessing Schwarzeneggerian proportions, so… yeah, no. Second, his bio states he’s an adept underwater fighter, “obviously having trained in order to be able to overcome the crushing pressures of the ocean floor.” Got that, gang? All you need to survive the kind of deep-sea pressure that crumples submarines like beer cans at a frat party are some deep breaths and ab crunches, and you’ll be right as rain! D+
Every franchise needs a tinkerer, a scientist/inventor type who can provide the hero with a handy supply of gadgets, gizmos and gewgaws to drive the plot forward. Think Dilton Doily in Riverdale, Gyro Gearloose in Duckburg, or Professor Keenbean in the Richie Rich books. In the DC universe, that role is more often than not filled by the good people at Strategic Technology and Research Labs, where their motto is: “If it’s science-y, it’s almost definitely us!” S.T.A.R. first came to prominence when its director was revealed to be an agent of a clandestine criminal network; he later turned into the Atomic Skull. I’d love to see a comic starring the people working in the HR department of a place like this. B
Roll call! Lantern-jawed white leader guy with studly name: check! Lantern-jawed, more muscular tough guy with studly name: check! Hot babe, preferably blonde: check! Goofy sidekick type, preferably someone’s kid brother: check! The Kirby is pleased. This ’60s quartet explored the world’s oceans back when undersea adventure was a bit of a fad in movies and on TV, and they encountered the requisite sea monsters, underwater civilizations, and aquatic super-villains in their travels. Leader Dale Dorrance is probably the only fictional character in history who was motivated by the chance to wear a set of prized flippers. I guess it’s a scuba thing us landlubbers aren’t supposed to get. C
This team of covert agents actually had a pretty good hook; all of them were experts in their fields who were reluctantly press-ganged into service by a mysterious leader, with clues suggesting one of them was in fact the one called Mockingbird. Think Mission: Impossible, only with more blackmail and paranoia. The book ended before Mockingbird’s identity was revealed, but I think DC revealed the answer back when it relaunched the team with an all-new line-up. Anyway, tell me that set-up doesn’t scream at least six seasons and a movie on NBC. A-
Secret Society of Super-Villains
Smack dab in the centre of this issue is a two-page spread of every member of the SSOSV, and boy howdy is it an impressive line-up. Lex Luthor! Gorilla Grodd! Bizarro! Poison Ivy! Sinestro! Captain Cold! Quakemaster! Funky Flashman… okay, mostly impressive. Everyone in the group shot also appears in their own individual entry, except for Captain Stingaree, who I gather is a pirate of some kind…? Considering he’s bringing up the rear with Funky Flashman and Matter Master, I guess it doesn’t really matter. C+
There are lots of characters named “Sensei” in the funnies and on the picture-box stories; this particular Sensei is an aged Asian gentleman who is absolute master of all martial arts and head of the League of Assassins. But why should we get to know his history when we can devote the entire entry to the story of some white dude’s dead spirit who possessed him to get revenge on Deadman’s patron goddess? Sigh. Do better, DC. C-
SENSOR GIRL IS ACTUALLY PRINCESS PROJECTRA, HA HA HA! There, I just spoiled the mystery for every Legion fan who recently awoke from a 30-year coma. After she joined the Legion, Projectra’s world got sucked into another zany super-villain scheme, and so she and her entire planet decided to haul themselves into a whole other dimension. But her planet’s leaders demanded she “do penance for bringing chaos to their world,” and so she was ordered to go back to Earth and serve as a masked member of the Legion with even more super-sensory powers than before. Yeah, I don’t quite follow how that’s a punishment, either. Spiffy outfit, though. B-
Get ready for a shock: the manly star of DC’s manliest war comic of all time “was a poor student throughout his scholastic career, though he proved himself a very capable athlete.” No way! Actually, it’s kind of hard to rag on Rock; he was always more of an archetype than fleshed-out character, epitomizing the give-’em-hell, never-say-die attitude that the ideal soldier had back in the day. So what if he and his company somehow ended up on the front lines of every major WWII battle? So what if they spent decades fighting a war in which the U.S. spent just under four years fighting? So what if he entered every fight with his Army issue shirt unbuttoned down to his navel? It’s guys with his kind of fighting spirit who got the war won, so you smart-mouthed whipper-snappers show some respect. He might have earned Fs in middle school, but ’round these parts, he scores a solid B+
How forgettable is this member of the Forever People? His entire bio is literally about stuff that happened to other people. You think I’m kidding? Here’s what I can tell you about Serifan after reading this page: he has a hat. That’s right, his goddamn hat and the “cosmic cartridges” he carries in his hatband get more ink than Serifan himself. Unbelievable. D-
Seven Soldiers of Victory
Shining Knight! Vigilante! Green Arrow! Speedy! Star-Spangled Kid! Stripesy! Crimson Avenger! Wing! Together, they are… wait, hold on a second. (two, three, four, five…) Huh. By my count, there are eight team members. Wonder why they were called the Seven Soldiers of Victory? Oh, that’s right! Wing was only an “unofficial” member on account of him being a filthy, filthy Chinaman. Sigh… D
Are you a fan of James Robinson’s Starman series? Well, brace yourself. Prior to that book (where Shade plays a meaty supporting role as an immortal gentleman who vacillates between villain and anti-hero depending on his mood), this Golden Age Flash villain was a bit of a cipher, another in a long line of superhero foes with one gimmick and no background or apparent motive for committing super-villainy. How bad was it for him? At one point, he teamed up with Rainbow Raider to take on the Flash. The Rainbow Raider, people. I really hope a frank discussion with his agent took place shortly after that. B-
Shade the Changing Man
“Shade wears a Miraco vest, which emits energy that distorts people’s perceptions of its wearer according to their emotional state. Hence, parts of Shade’s body will appear to be enlarged/distorted to his adversaries due to their shock and fear.” This, of course, is known in psychology circles as “the Rob Liefeld effect” (rimshot). He’s a wrongly accused secret agent from the other-dimensional Meta Zone who’s on the run from someone called the Supreme Decider, and yet somehow Jack Kirby had nothing to do with any of this. What I don’t understand is how a vest like his would be useful to anyone in the law enforcement business. Sure, it might give you an edge over the criminals you’re pursuing, but those aren’t the only kinds of people who experience shock or fear. “There, there, little girl. You’re safe now. Officer Shade here will escort you home to your—” “AAAAAAAHHHHHH!” D
Mmmmm-hmmmm. Well done, Steve Lightle. Well done. The latest in a line of champions from Talok VII, Shadow Lass and her cousin once entered a cave in which “a black cloud acted on their genetic heritage and unleashed their powers.” Or maybe her shadow powers manifested in the bathroom one morning and the cave story is what she and her cousin told everyone to spare everyone else the incestuous details of their special spelunking time. Ours is not to judge. B
Carl Sands was another in a long line of Silver Age villains obsessed with something people don’t normally obsess about (in his case, his shadow and its ability to slip the surly bonds of his jail cell) and who was later given the means to turn that obsession into a super-villain M.O. thanks to the standard “alien did it” hand wave. The flimsy origin aside, he was a solid Hawkman villain, though I’m intrigued by the editorial decision to put quotation marks around “experiments” and “research” when discussing his efforts to study shadow facts and legends. Should we always use finger quotes whenever we refer to his “research”? Are the writers implying his “research” consisted of nothing more than drinking a 12-pack and making shadow puppets in his room? B
“Art by Wendy Pini.” I can honestly say I was not expecting that. However, a fine rendering of the Shaggy Man by an exceptional artist better known for drawing doe-eyed elves does not negate the extreme stupidity of this Justice League foe. Another scientific experiment gone awry, the Shaggy Man was basically an unstoppable artificial being with a mind for nothing but destruction, and the League was plumb out of ideas for stopping it (mainly because it was made of a self-regenerating material that made it indestructible). So what’s the team’s big idea? Why, create another Shaggy Man and let the two of them beat on each other for all eternity! Brilliant, right? Except then someone with nefarious intentions steals one of the Shaggy Men and sends it off rampaging again — that is, until Green Lantern shrinks it down to a more manageable size. At which point I hope Batman sidled over next to GL and asked, “So… exactly how long have you known you could do that with your ring?” D
Um… wowza. This adventurer and ardent conservationist re: Skartaris’s precious fur resources first met the Warlord when they joined forces to escape the clutches of a bunch of giants. She surprised him in the midst of battle by transforming into a black cat. “Morgan had even speculated that she might not be a woman who turns into a cat, but a cat who turns into a woman.” Just to be clear, I’m totally cool with it either way. Call me if you ever become non-fictional! B+
I know the Silver Age writers had deadlines and all, but man, this was just lazy writing all around.
“He’s a tiger shark that super-evolved to become a man-shark!”
How did it happen?
Why does he go after Green Lantern?
“Because he’s a shark with instincts and he wants to hunt prey!”
So why not feed on toddlers or people who can’t swim fast, then work his way up?
“He wants to hunt prey that’s worthy of his evolved state!”
Okay, fine, but how does he find Green Lantern among all the other billions of humans?
“He has psionic powers that allow him to read minds!”
And how does he last more than five seconds in a fight with Green Lantern when he’s clearly not yellow?
“He has an invisible yellow aura that protects him from Green Lantern’s ring!”
Wait, so this magical radiation that somehow affects only the one ocean creature can forcibly evolve a shark, bestow it with amazing mental powers and give it the means to defend itself against a superhero who coincidentally has issues with the one color this invisible aura comes in?
“Look, just shut up and buy the book, okay?”
Then there’s the bit where his defeats always end with him turning back into a shark and swimming away, only to revert back to his super-villain state every time he hits a patch of toxic waste. Is it too much to ask one of these hero types to haul his Jabberjaws ass to Sea World, or anywhere else where toxic waste isn’t on the menu? D
“Shazam’s abilities today are limited to dispatching magic thunderbolts and advising the Marvel Family.” Oh, is that all? He himself was once known in ancient times as the champion VLAREM, which gives you some sense of how far back in time Disney’s lawyers can reach. As of 1986, he was enjoying retirement as sole resident of the Rock of Eternity, which for some reason is still not being snapped up as the name for a Journey tribute band. C+
“This Teen Titans villain was consciously modeled after beloved comedic actress and Simpsons voice-over artist Marcia Wallace. Discuss.” Seriously, I can’t look at her without hearing a patented Edna Krabappel “Ha!” inside my head. Wasn’t Mrs. Krabappel a super-villain in one episode? C
You saw a lot of this back in the old days: comic writers finding all kinds of cockamamie ways (in this guy’s case, broken out of an ice block-induced state of suspended animation) to bring various tough-guy archetypes from the past into the present. Cowboys, cavemen, Vikings, knights — it didn’t matter who they were, they’d all wake up in the 1940s and decide to kick Nazi ass. No, no time to mourn dead loved ones, learn modern languages, or wonder what’s up with all those shiny metal birds in the sky — we’ve got gangsters and goose-steppers to stomp, people! Then there’s this nugget of knowledge: before Sir Justin took his ice nap, “Merlin magically transformed Sir Justin’s armor, making it lighter and bulletproof, and giving it a shining gold color.” Bulletproof, you say? In the sixth century? That was certainly forward-looking on Merlin’s part. At least Shining Knight comes with a flying horse. Can’t go wrong with a flying horse. C