Daily Archives: September 27, 2014

Making the Grade: Who’s Who, Vol. XXI


Welcome to Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe, Volume Ecks-Ecks-Eye (from Shrinking Violet to Starfinger), or as I like to call it, the “Huh–?!” issue. 

Our good friend Ernie Colón is back on cover-art duty, and while it’s not a terrible job by any means, it’s… all right, seriously, what the hell, Ernie?

Let’s talk about Solomon Grundy. He’s not my first choice for the front-and-centre cover spot — I would argue the Spectre is the designated heavy-hitter in this issue — but if you’re going to go with him, that’s fine.

But why does he look so distorted here, with the teeny head atop a giant body that looks like it’s about to explode any second from being blown up to blimp-like proportions? I’m guessing Colón was trying to do some kind of funky perspective thing by making it look as if Grundy was coming right off the page at the reader — but it’s not working here, especially with the other characters around him not showing the same extreme shifts in body proportions.  

Then you’ve got the other odd bits here and there, like the Silent Knight (a minor and almost forgotten character) taking up so much space on the front next to fellow non-entity Spawn of Frankenstein, the Spectre’s cape stretching all the way behind the character index and off the cover, the Spook’s red eyes looking over at Shrinking Violet for some reason while various characters jump and leap and swing to nowhere… yeah, “odd” is definitely the O-word of the day here.   

Also: onward! 

Shrinking Violet
You can’t have a heat-flinger without a cold-zapper, you can’t have a Star Boy (he makes things heavy!) without a Light Lass (she makes things light!), and a Colossal Boy nets you a Shrinking Violet. Like all people on her home planet Imsk, Salu Digby had the natural ability to get all teeny-weeny, and that was enough to get her in the Legion. She was later kidnapped by Imskian radicals and held prisoner for a year while a Durlan shape-shifter took her place, in a story I remember as being pretty shocking for its time. I mean, someone else moves into your life and tricks everyone into believing they’re you, doing things like marrying another Legionnaire as you while you floated helplessly in a discount Star Wars bacta tank, and then after you escape and the impostor is revealed the guy she married while she was wearing your face decides, meh, he loves her so no hard feelings? Yeah, I don’t think the “she frequently seems alienated” line in this entry even begins to cover it. B

Like a lot of nerds my age, my introduction to Signalman was a Justice League of America story where a bunch of villains teamed up to take down members of both the League and the Justice Society. Signalman defeated Batman — Batman, mind you — by hypnotizing a crowd of civilians and having them dogpile on Batman, knowing that Batman wouldn’t harm innocent bystanders. And I thought, “Wow! Dude’s wearing a seriously fugly costume — seriously, who does diagonal-striped black and yellow shorts? — but this is clearly a force to be reckoned with.” Ehhhh… not quite. Turns out that story was the high point in his career; before that, he was a low-rent Riddler who sent “signals” to Batman before committing crimes. Then when that well-thought-out scheme backfired, he decided to fight Batman and Robin as the Blue Bowman, using replicas of Green Arrow’s trick arrows against the Dynamic Duo. And you see why he didn’t go with “Originalman” when deciding on a villain name. D

Silent Knight
Get it huh huh get it? Brian Kent was a young English nobleman who co-ruled a kingdom with a tyrannical lord; he secretly fought for his people as the mysterious Shining Knight, never speaking while wearing his helmet for fear of giving away his identity. You know an easier way to help those oppressed folks you love so much, Brian? Kill the asshole you share the throne with and run the place by yourself. Just putting it out there. C-

Silver Deer
Yikes. Okay, so this Firestorm villain is a Native American sorceress whose super powers include turning into spirit animals and “magically control(ling) games of chance.” That… feels so wrong. And not just because “spirit animals and super-gambling” versus “I can transmute the oxygen atoms in your lungs into sulfuric acid with a snap of my fingers” does not remotely sound like an even match. D+

Silver Ghost
Alias Raphael van Zandt, he was a Nazi leader who travelled from Earth-X to Earth-1 through some undisclosed means just to get back at a guy who double-crossed him. And even though every other DC character who hopscotched across dimensions never had this happen to him, the inter-dimensional journey somehow endowed van Zandt with the power to transform objects and people into solid silver, which he could then control. How did this happen? Why this particular power? How did he figure out that he could control people with it? Were they coated with the stuff or magically turned into it? All very good questions. But all you really need to know is this: When your name is “Raphael van Zandt,” you don’t need to explain anything. D+

Silver Scarab
Man, we’re hitting Fred-from-Scooby-Doo levels of boring with this guy. The son of Earth-2’s Hawkman and Hawkgirl thought his life was sooooo unfair because (cue the violins) his parents didn’t spend enough time with him. Having superheroes for parents, a hot girlfriend who’s also the child of a superhero, the chance to visit faraway lands full of bird-people — none of this made up for the fact his mommy and daddy didn’t make him the center of the universe 24/7. So he swipes a bunch of his dad’s “ninth metal” and creates an armored suit that allows him to fly and hurl solar blasts, and then demands membership in the Justice Society before finishing college. Entitled much, Hector? D

Silver Swan

A great concept only slightly marred by the almost total lack of shit given to Wonder Woman by DC Inc. before George Pérez came along. Helen Alexandros was a homely Greek woman who pleaded to the gods for help and had her prayers answered by Mars (who should be called Ares in this context, but never mind). He transformed her into a stunningly beautiful woman with super-strength, flight and sonic powers — but she could only stay that way for an hour at a time. The only way she could make it permanent, she was told, was if she killed Wonder Woman. Oh, and also start a devastating war on behalf of her patron — but hey, flawless skin is totally worth it, right? She’s the perfect vehicle for a lot of crap heaped upon women: the “fairy godmother” myth, the idea that a woman’s worth is in her beauty, the pitting of women against each other to keep them from mucking up the plans of the guys in charge… but no, let’s not delve into any of that. Instead, let’s have her duped by Doctor Psycho and beaten up by another woman who uses an “ectoplasmic extractor” to take on the form of Wonder Woman. Bleh. For concept only, B+

“Occupation: Professional Villain.” Funny, I always saw that more as a hobby. Sinestro, despite a name that suggests about five seconds of thought went into it, is actually the perfect arch-nemesis for Green Lantern. Because when you think about it — and trust me when I say I’m hardly the first to make this point — Sinestro’s actions are really just the result of him taking the Guardians’ mission statement to its logical extreme. They’re all about imposing order on a universe that didn’t ask for it, and so is he — he’s just a bit more, ah, proactive about it. And really, don’t the Guardians believe in performance reviews? They’re so infallible they don’t need to check in on their soldiers until they’re guilty of “violating every tenet of the Corps”…? You might see a renegade Green Lantern; I see the end result of bad management. A-

The best part about this entry? The artwork showing Sivana firing concentric circles from a ray gun into a startled Captain Marvel’s buttcheeks. Hee. Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana (a.k.a. the Rightful Ruler of the Universe) fills the Lex Luthor role in the Captain Marvel comics, forever coming up with one mad scheme after another to humiliate the Big Red Cheese and conquer the world. But when you think about it, he kind of got a raw deal: a brilliant scientist who was way ahead of his time, he was mocked by his fellow scientists and attacked by industrialists who thought his designs for cheaper, longer-lasting goods threatened their profits. He was totally screwed over by The Man! So who can blame him for building a spaceship, heading for Venus and plotting his revenge on the world? The six-year-olds reading your stories might call you a stinky poophead, Dr. Sivana, but to a relativist like me, you’re all right. B

Sivana Family

Okay, what the hell kind of romantic life does this guy have? Twice widowed, Sivana sired four children, a boy and a girl with his first wife and the same with his second. Magnificus and Beautia are Aryan Youth pep rally posters come to life, all blond hair and rippling pectorals, while Georgia and Sivana Jr. look exactly like their shriveled and buck-toothed dad, only with hair and plaid skirts. The pretty ones are good and decent and help the Marvel family on their superhero missions, while the ugly ones plot and scheme to become Prince and Princess of Earth. I could write a thesis here about how this sort of nonsense reinforces the “beautiful = good/ugly = bad” message pounded into our brains day in and day out, but I’m guessing you figured that out about five Disney movies ago. C-

Bay of Tears, Tower of Fear, Desert of Sorrows, Blood Rock Mountains… why do I get the feeling the local tourism board didn’t have a hand in naming these places? This extra-dimensional realm is where Travis “Warlord” Morgan hangs his winged hat, a land of perpetual sunlight that’s home to a fantasy fan’s grab bag of tropes: elves, goblins, wizards, giants, dinosaurs, barbarians, undersea kingdoms, you name it. The two-page spread shows the main cities and points of interests, as well as numbers noting the location of significant events in Warlord’s career: “(7) Around here the Warlord fought a mutated cobra-woman (WARLORD #28).” Let’s hope the tourism people at least put up a plaque commemorating that event. C+

You’ve got to give it up for these guys. Skull (no fancy acronym, just “Skull”) is a costumed criminal organization, one of many that DC has tried (and failed) over the years to establish as a scary international criminal/terrorist group in the same vein as, say, HYDRA or AIM. It started as just another criminal gang, but they got organized — with matching outfits and everything — when the Atomic Skull needed a bunch of bodies to throw against Superman. But then he moved on and… they just kept doing their thing. I mean, it’s not like their former leader had a copyright on the word “skull,” right? And what were they supposed to do, buy new uniforms, business cards, and non-skull-shaped flying cars just because their boss took a powder? It’s called overhead, people! Sure, they’re evil. Sure, they have no discernible manifesto or reason for existing. But dammit, at least they’re being frugal about it. That’s got to count for something. C+

Originally known as the Star-Spangled Kid, this was a Golden Age mystery-man who, thank to the usual comic-book hocus-pocus, gets thrown into the past and then returned to the 20th century many years after he left, the net result being he aged only a few years between the 1940s and the 1980s. That’s pretty much the only interesting thing you can say about him. No powers, another hero’s hand-me-down weapon — let’s move on. C-

Slam Bradley
One of DC’s earliest properties (in that he’s one of the first characters Siegel and Shuster were conned into signing away their rights to), Slam (which appears to be his actual name) is the kind of hard-boiled private eye they cranked out by the dozen back in the day. There’s not a lot that’s unique about him, but he’s had impressive staying power, recently appearing in Ed Brubaker’s Catwoman series as Selina’s conscience/onetime love interest. Let’s hope Slam sent his agent a nice fruit basket for landing him that gig. C+


Now, this is a guy with potential. He’s got a nice, theme-appropriate costume (albeit with unfortunate droopy sleeves and underarm windows) and a gimmick (he’s good with rope!) that you don’t see a lot of other bad guys flaunting. If he had played his cards right, he would have had a steady gig as one of the lesser villains in Batman’s rogues’ gallery, or as an occasional sparring partner for a guy like Green Arrow. But instead, he chose to go up against Firestorm. One of them is called “the Nuclear Man.” The other is “that guy who can tie a granny knot real good.” I think we all see the problem here. D

Snapper Carr
Oh Lordy, spare us from the scourge of the teen mascot. Back in the ’60s, there seemed to be this idea that the teens reading superhero comics needed someone like them in the mix — you know, someone they can relate to. Trouble is, the men writing these stories were a few years past their own sock hop days, and it showed. Lucas “Snapper” Carr was a finger-snapping, “daddy-o”-spouting teen who helped the Justice League in their first recorded case, and he took the team’s awkward silence after the fight was over as permission to move right in to their mountain headquarters (I might be imagining the awkward silence part). He got suckered by a lunatic into betraying the team, which shows you how dumb he was, and later got a job at S.T.A.R. Labs thanks to the League putting in a good word on his behalf, which shows you how dumb they were. C-

Solomon Grundy
A great villain with a horror-tinged origin story (he’s the revived corpse of a man murdered in a Gotham-area swamp in 1894), Solomon Grundy (who was in fact “born” on a Monday) has had a long career as a super-villain mainly because he’s so versatile, which is something you can’t say about most walking-dead types. He’s been a criminal gang leader, a homicidal maniac, a creature with supernatural powers, a misunderstood monster, you name it. Two parts of his origin amuse me greatly: (1) When he first emerged from the swamp, he mugged two escaped criminals for their clothes — and yeah, if I saw a demanding, buck-naked, 7’5″ guy while walking through a dark swamp at night, I’d hand over my pants, too. (2) He later came across a “hobo camp” where he met a criminal gang that took him in despite the fact he was clearly a large, disoriented and possibly dangerous superhuman creature. But then, considering they were not that good at the whole criminal gang thing (see also: “hobo camp”), they probably weren’t in a position to be picky about membership. A

He’s an old-school Green Lantern foe who uses his mastery of sound to do whatever the writers felt like writing about that day (He can walk on air! He can cause hallucinations! How? Sound waves!). But that’s not the stupid part. He’s pitting his mastery of sound against a hero who can fly at multiple times the speed of light just by thinking about it. But that’s not the stupid part. Here’s the stupid part: his motivation for becoming a super-villain is to steal the parts for a giant sonic weapon that would make his tiny European country a world power. Because clearly, when you’re the ruler of a tiny European country, building giant tuning-fork guns is the only way to go. Create a tax haven for wealthy ex-pats? Offer discrete banking and/or high-stakes gambling to the super-elite? Pfft. Maybe if you’re a chump. And Mama Wladon didn’t raise no chumps. D

Son of Vulcan
Admit it, you read this and you also thought Mr. Spock right away, didn’t you? Man, we’re such nerds. Johnny Mann was a reporter covering a war in Greece when he came across the ruins of the Hall of Jupiter — quite the feat, since the Greeks would have named it after Zeus. Anyway, he gets an audience with the gods, who tell him they didn’t create the world’s evil so they don’t feel responsible for stopping it. But hey, here’s some armor and swords and stuff — go knock yourself out if you hate evil so much. “In hand-to-hand combat the Son of Vulcan appears to have superior strength, though his overly muscled body may have been a detriment to his abilities and slowed him down, enabling less-powerful foes to defeat him.” Probably the most honest nod to realism you’re going to see in the whole series. C

Space Cabbie

Don’t get me wrong: Julie Schwartz was a legend. As an editor, he reigned over one of DC’s most fertile periods, he saved Batman from cancellation when that was an honest-to-God possibility, and he was one of the last old-school greats in the business. But every once in a while, he’d come up with an idea so goofy you could never be sure if he was pulling your leg. Exhibit A: Space Cabbie, the interstellar cab driver with the spaceship taxi! Sadly, the world would never get to see Schwartz’s follow-ups: Space Deli Counter Guy, Space Traffic Cop, and Space Guy I Met on the Bus While Heading to Work. D+

Space Museum
“It is said that there is a story of heroism behind each exhibit on display at the Space Museum.” And you’re going to stop your bawling and listen to every single one of then because this is our special father-son time, dammit! This 25th-century museum was the “star” of a 1960s strip in Strange Adventures; a father would tell his son the story behind some artifact, usually a tale involving space exploration or the adventures of 20th-century superheroes. Later, the guy who became Booster Gold borrowed a time machine on display at the museum to go back in time to our present — you know, the same way that you or I could bust into the Smithsonian and head to the moon in an Apollo space capsule. Anyway, I’m going to assume Julie was also behind this one because there’s a “Space” in the title. C

Space Ranger
And this one, too. Rick “Space Ranger” Starr first appeared in Showcase #15, in 1958, and he’s got “Sputnik Age kid’s show” written all over him: he divides his time between playing business executive and patrolling the galaxy in his secret identity, he calls his ship the Solar King, he has a girl Friday and shape-changing alien buddy, and uses all kinds of techno-goodies like a “thermoblaze gun” and a “dissolverizer.” Really, if you knew this guy in real life, he’d stop conversations with you every 15 minutes to tell the kids and moms at home about how Wonder Bread is fortified with iron, and that’s just swell. D+

Spanner’s Galaxy
Who’s Who is a fun catalogue of DC’s classic characters, but it also functions as a half-decent time capsule, giving you a sense of what DC was up to — and which series it was trying to push — in the mid-1980s. Spanner’s Galaxy, an out-of-DC-continuity title about a lovable space rogue on the run, didn’t get much play beyond its original limited run, and no wonder — it’s one of the more obvious attempts to cash in on the Star Wars mania at the time, from the “he’s some kind of human knight with special powers” to “did we mention he also uses a special weapon?” to “someone in this series is actually named ‘Andromeda Jones’ if you can believe it.” That’s the great thing about the name Jones; put any polysyllabic word next to it and you’ve got an instant adventure hero name. Indiana Jones! Andromeda Jones! Pusillanimous Jones! Chlamydia Jones! The only limit is your imagination. C-

Spawn of Frankenstein

Yes, he’s the actual “so-called monster” created by Victor Frankenstein in the 18th century. No, he doesn’t look anything like the Karloff version — more like Iggy Pop after a botched nose job. “He also knows many of Victor Frankenstein’s scientific secrets” — including, one assumes, the secret of how an electrical socket can appear in an image showcasing 18th-century lab equipment. C+

People talk about the “Superman problem” when they want to point out the challenges that come with making a superhero too powerful for anyone to battle, but I think it should be called the “Spectre problem.” Because let’s face it, for all the fantastical powers Siegel and Shuster bestowed on their most famous creation, at least he was constrained by his mortal shell. The Spectre, arguably Siegel and Shuster’s second-most famous creation and a character who has gone from angry ghost to God’s Right Hand of Vengeance, has no such limitations. And if you think I’m speaking in hyperboles, we are told in his entry he’s “the most powerful known being in the universe, capable virtually of any feat” — right next to a picture of him getting smacked in the noggin by a planet wielded by a giant demon type. He’s basically God in green shorts and booties, and that makes him a problem for DC writers, who in recent years have had to come up with various reasons to sideline or de-power him during their “big event” storylines, just to avoid the question of why the Spectre doesn’t show up and send the baddies packing with a snap of his gloved fingers. In the right hands (like John Ostrander), the Spectre can be a fun read, the kind of character a writer can use as a springboard to explore themes like the limits of human belief, or the inherent contradictions in having a God who’s depicted as loving and forgiving but also totally down with the smiting and the plaguing. Most times, though? Eh, not so much. B-

Speedy I/Speedy II
Both versions of Speedy served as the teen sidekick to Green Arrow, both wore contrasting red to their mentors’ trademark green outfits, and both had conveniently dying parents that made the ward adoption paperwork a breeze. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end. The Roy Harper most people know and love are aware of is the former heroin addict who fathered a child with a Vietnamese assassin and later became a gun-toting government agent named Arsenal. The other Speedy went back in time and got turned into a centaur. Can you guess which one appeared in the Golden Age? Speedy I: C; Speedy II: C-

Ai yi yi. His costume is like every Kirby, Ditko and Infantino rejected costume sketch was thrown into a shredder and then re-sewn into one outfit by blind seamstresses on acid. Seriously, look at this thing! Even if your shtick is making people all hyp-mo-tized, why would you want to leave the house looking like that? How effective can you be as a hypnotist if your subjects can see you coming from miles away? Just looking at this entry makes me sad. D-

Spider Guild
No relation to the far more popular Lollipop Guild, this is a race of sentient spiders that move from planet to planet using the native inhabitants as food for their little spider darlings. Think of that big spider from The Lord of the Rings with warp drive times a billion, and you get a sense of how scary these mofos are. “The Spider Guild has often been opposed by members of the Green Lantern Corps (see listing) over the years, and in some sectors they have learned to sheath their ships in yellow metal as protection.” THANK YOU! For real, if everyone knows the one weakness of the Corps, then why isn’t everything in the known universe slathered in a lovely shade of Big Bird No. 5? The Spider-Borg dudes can figure this out, but not the rest of us sentient types? C-

First: “Val Kaliban” is definitely going on my list of hotel aliases. Second: what the hell? He’s an architect who designed a Gotham prison with secret passages so he could later charge convicts looking to escape; he killed his superior at his engineering firm and pinned the rap on a lookalike he hypnotized into thinking was Kaliban himself. Sigh. Okay. Let’s put aside all the inherent flaws in that “perfect murder” he supposedly committed and focus on his get-rich-eventually scheme. Big complicated things like prisons aren’t designed by just one guy. And even if they were, someone on the construction crew is going to notice little things like passages and doors that give a prison a little more accessibility than one would assume is ideal. And even if no one noticed, how likely is it that none of the guards or prisoners would come across these escape routes by accident after construction was finished? Come to think of it, how do you even market your services to current and future convicts without some Johnny Law type catching wind? What I’m saying, Val, buddy, pal, and I say this as friend — this business plan of yours needs tweaking. D

You know, I was ready to dump all over this Golden Age galoot for so many reasons: his improbable mastery of every known sport, his purple-and-green costume, his sports-themed heists, his gimmicky sports equipment (exploding balls, flying skis, etc.). But I can’t. Why? Because he and his wife were the villains behind a 1976 story that saw DC’s heroes and villains play a game of baseball to settle once and for all whether the good guys always win. (Spoiler: the good guys win.) Just try to picture Lex Luthor pounding his glove and saying “battabattabattabattaSAWEEEENGbatta” in the outfield and not smile. It’s not possible! So thanks, Crusher. I’ll bump you up a grade for that. C+

Not, as you might assume, a series based on that creepy guy you knew in college, Stalker was written by Legion scribe Paul Levitz back when DC was looking for its next sword-and-sorcery hit. A young man on a barbaric world trades his soul for the “power and skill of a great warrior,” only to realize too late that probably wasn’t the best plan. The warrior god he sold it to says hey, he’d love to help him out, really, but it’s beyond even his power to return a soul — and he can’t give it back until everyone in the world who feeds him strength by worshipping war and evil is destroyed. So off Stalker goes to kill every man, woman and child he sees. Well, no, they don’t say that here… but it only stands to reason, right? Although encouraging Stalker to do all that slaying doesn’t sound like the best way to get rid of war or evil to me… oh. Right. Well played, god of evil. Well played. B-

Star Boy
The bearded Legionnaire. There might be others, but that’s all I remember when I think about Star Boy. Well, that and how Dream Girl always had him wrapped around her manicured finger. Also, he makes things heavy. Literally, not emotionally. Is there anything else we need to know about him? Not really. C-

“Starfinger is probably the most cowardly of the major villains of the thirtieth century, choosing to strike repeatedly at the Legionnaires through proxies.” Well, that’s just harsh. He’s a scientist with no special powers of his own. What’s he supposed to do, waltz into Legion headquarters and punch Ultra Boy in the face just to show everyone how badass he is? So now someone who doesn’t want to be incinerated/electrified/pulverized/transmuted into noble gases by a clubhouse full of heroes who consider 30-on-1 a fair fight is supposed to feel like a coward for outsourcing some of his work? Nice, DC. Real nice. C