Monthly Archives: October 2014

Making the Grade: Who’s Who, Vol. XXV


Hang on to your hairpieces, people, because we’re heading into the home stretch with the penultimate issue of Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe! This week: Issue Ecks-Ecks-Vee, from Unknown Soldier to Witch Boy.

This issue’s cover is by Kevin Maguire on pencils and Dick Giordano on inks. Maguire’s first credited works were illustrations for this very series and Marvel’s Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Not long after designing this cover, he would go on to make a lot of fans (me included) with his pencils on DC’s relaunched Justice League, one of the best pairings of an artist’s style with a book’s tone in that I can think of.

It says a lot about the confidence DC had in Maguire at the start of his career that they were willing to give him this choice assignment. Or maybe the other guys they usually tapped for these covers all screamed, “No! No more! Make it stop!”  


Unknown Soldier
Decent Joe Kubert art and an admittedly action-movie-ready concept (lowly GI with face blown off is reborn as master of disguise who wages a one-man war on Axis powers) don’t make up for two somewhat large-ish conceptual issues with this guy. First, co-opting the name of an emotionally powerful symbol like The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to tell stories about a bandaged super-spy is borderline offensive at best. Second, the Unknown Soldier was born when he and his brother were hit by enemy fire in “the early days of World War II” — which for the U.S. meant anytime after December 7, 1941. So between Pearl Harbor and Berlin’s surrender in 1945, this guy signed up for duty, completed basic training, was assigned overseas, got injured, recuperated, resolved to fight the war a different way, learned how to make lifelike masks and impersonate anyone flawlessly, mastered several languages, developed the contacts a spy needs to operate behind enemy lines, and picked up the usual superior fighting skills most super-spies tend to have. Even Bruce Wayne is all, “Shyeah, right.” C-


Once upon a time, someone needed some villains to fill out an issue of DC Comics Presents, so they came up with the Intangibles, a gang of crooks using “super-scientific uniforms” that allowed them to walk through walls and such. For a bunch of Kitty Pryde wannabes, they were a pretty generic-looking bunch, with not much separating them from all the other criminals who used science doodads to rob banks. But a little while later, someone took another look at the idea, realized “intangible” is another word for “untouchable,” got thinking about Eliot Ness… and the rest is history. Honestly, this is what comics should be: phasing-through-walls criminals dressed like 1930s gangsters doing their thing while using a double-meaning name. We need more stuff like this. B

Valda the Iron Maiden

Things I love about Valda the Iron Maiden:

1. She’s a woman in a sword-and-sorcery fantasy comic, but there isn’t a high heel or chain-mail bikini anywhere in sight. Pants! Pants, for the love of Odin! On a female character in a fantasy comic that came out in the early ’80s! Why this didn’t cause a national holiday I’ll never understand.

2. She’s drawn holding a broadsword, has a smaller sword on her waist and a dagger in her boot, and she’s wearing a belt from which a small pouch (presumably holding lots of little daggers) is hung. Lady knows how to accessorize, is what I’m saying.

3. She fell in love with Arak, a Native American warrior who wandered around with her in eighth-century Europe, proving she was way ahead of the curve on the whole “people are people” vibe.

4. Ernie Colón took the time to draw a bunch of skulls and a ribcage(!) at her feet, establishing her as quite the badass and acknowledging the obvious yet politely overlooked fact that a lot of people in fantasy comics spend most of their time killing things. A

Editing’s a tough job, so I’ll forgive the obvious typo that says Validus is five feet tall when the art makes it clear he’s a we e bit taller than that. What I will say is this: the mere existence of Validus is all the proof you need that Darkseid is the biggest, baddest mofo in the DCU. How so? When you take time out of your busy schedule of universal domination to kidnap the infant child of two of your minor enemies, and then transform him into a mindless, murderous monster and send him back in time to try and kill his parents before he’s even born — well, let’s just say that’s the kind of stone cold evil you’re not going to get from, say, the Rainbow Raider. As for Validus himself: meh. C+

Vandal Savage
I freakin’ love Vandal Savage. He’s a 50,000-year-old caveman who scored immortality from space magic and spends thousands of lifetimes playing the role of just about every famous ancient emperor and conqueror you can think of. Then one millennium, he decides to take a more behind-the-scenes approach, so he acts as adviser to guys like William the Conqueror, Napoleon and Otto von Bismarck. By the 1940s, he wants the Axis powers to win the war, but he knows that won’t happen if the Americans join the fight (you live a few millennia, you get good at predicting the odds on these kinds of things). So he hatches a scheme to get himself appointed U.S. War Labor Chief, a job that would allow him to sabotage the American war effort from within, but he can’t take the job — and I’m totally serious here — unless he can provide a birth certificate. So he swipes one belonging to the best pal of the Golden Age Green Lantern, which leads to GL interfering with his eeee-vil plans. Putting aside the unlikely coincidence of Savage randomly targeting someone with a superhero connection… are we really supposed to believe a guy with 50,000 birthdays behind him can’t figure out how to forge a lousy birth certificate? B+

A one-issue wonder who showed up in Blue Devil, he’s a Hollywood chauffeur who was hypnotized into believing he was a superhero. All he had to do was say the name of his favorite film hero, Errol Flynn, and his body “would temporarily function at the peak of human perfection.” To which I can only say… really? Errol Flynn? Who in the 1980s would pick a guy from the 1920s as their favorite film star? It’s like someone today saying they prefer the comedic talents of Eddie Cantor or Fatty Arbuckle. (“Who?” Exactly my point). Also, can reciting other actors’ names imbue a person with other special abilities? Would saying “Arnold Schwarzenegger” give me the power to bang any housekeeper I want? D

No, YOU shut up. And quit your snickering while you’re at it — I’ll have you know thigh-high boots, Speedo, vest without a shirt, and cop mustache were the height of heterosexual manliness in 1970s fashion. It’s hard to know what to make fun of first with this ally/occasional sparring partner of the Bronze Age Superman: the vaguely defined but super-powerful array of “hyper-powers” he possesses… the idea of his alien girlfriend spontaneously dying because her “bionic twin” on Earth was killed by a holdup man, leading Vartox to come to Earth and spirit the killer away to face justice on his home planet (which Superman was totally down with because, hey, alien bros)… or the fact Vartox’s home planet later exploded and Superman set up this ludicrously overpowered superhero with a sweet gig as a security guard at his office building, which sounds like an SNL sketch just waiting to happen. You know what? Screw it. I’m done making fun. Guy like this, he deserves props just for having the balls to exist. B-

Vegan System
A map of the Vegan star system and its 22 planets, of interest only to fans of the Omega Men and Starfire from the Teen Titans. “Note: The planet sizes are not to scale and all distances have been condensed.” Wait, what? I expect nothing but complete and utter veracity in my comic-book astronomical charts. C-

Vigilante I
The cowboy one whose claim to coolness is sealed by Nathan Fillion voicing him in Justice League Unlimited. He was somehow able to keep his identity secret even though he wore a red bandanna for a mask and had a high-profile alter ego as “The Singing Prairie Troubadour” on the radio. Maybe everyone knew who the Vigilante really was and they played along because they thought this was one of those Garth Brooks/Chris Gaines things. (“Who?” the millennials ask. Ah, the fickleness of fame.) B-

Vigilante II
Also known as the Vigilante they didn’t tap for an appearance in Justice League Unlimited. Why? Because he’s a rip-off of the Punisher, who was a rip-off of the Executioner, who was a rip-off of every revenge fantasy every guy has ever had. Crusading DA whose family was killed by mobsters dons a mask to exact justice without stupid things like “due process” getting in his way, etc. etc. He later retires the mask to take a job as a judge (so… the whole “avenge your family’s murder” was more of a midlife crisis thing?), and he’s horrified when his actions inspire other nutjobs to take his name and pick up where he left off. Yeah, because who could’ve seen that coming, huh? D

Viking Commando

“I don’t think that soldier’s hair and beard are regulation length, Sergeant.” “Fine, sir, you go tell him that.” How can you not love this guy? He’s an honest-to-God Viking who fights Nazis! a Viking who fights Nazis! Throw in some dinosaurs, ninjas, spaceships and regressive attitudes towards women and you’ve got the greatest boys-rule blockbuster Michael Bay never made! Someone please tell me DC brought back this dude and I somehow missed it. A Viking who fights Nazis! A-

Viking Prince
Another Viking brought forward in time to join the grunts on the ground during Dubya-Dubya-Two, this guy — “Jon” by name, like, hello, guy who reminds me of Garfield’s sad-sack owner — somehow doesn’t seem as awesome as the other time-hurled axe-swinger. It might be because his history is mostly a string of “legend has it” stories that don’t give you any real sense of who he is, or maybe it’s because he ripped off Captain America’s “frozen in ice” excuse for skipping ahead in time. Either way, put me me down for “going commando” any day of the week. Ew, not like that. C-

Virman Vundabar
He’s a guy living on a far-off alien planet who has never seen an Earthling, let alone a German Earthling, but somehow decides to adopt the dress and mannerisms of a 19th-century Prussian military leader. Why? Shut up, it’s Jack Kirby. BONUS FUN FACT: “He is a good hand-to-hand combatant, but is handicapped by his small size,” which might lead one to assume he is Peter Dinklage-ian in his proportions, but nope — a quick glance at his Personal Data reveals he’s 6’2″, the same height as Big Barda even though she appears to tower over him in the background art. So… what up, DC? C+

The fashion model with the animal powers appeared in Action Comics before she was drafted to the Justice League Detroit team; she managed to emerge relatively unscathed from that cesspool of sucktitude. And her high profile in recent years has been helped by her being one of the very few longtime, non-white female superheroes in DC’s catalogue. Good for her; she’s paid her dues, she deserves the love. B+

Vykin the Black
He’s… aw, you guessed. Another of Jack Kirby’s Forever People about whom “little is known” re: their early years, so we get the same recitation of events from their short-lived title that appeared with the other entries for the Forever People. No explanation for why his name sounds like “Viking” or why he’s filling the designated Lando Calrissian role in Kirby’s otherwise lily-white space opera is forthcoming. Boy, good thing they put “the Black” in his name, huh? We might have missed that otherwise. C-

Hoo boy. You read enough Legion stories, you know you’re going to get a certain level of stupid with your stories. But holy crap, these guys — a separate group of adventurers that occasionally fight/team up with the Legion — are pushing it. Let me show you what I mean:

Celebrand: The leader, but with no powers to speak of. Like, at all. But he has a raygun! Cower in fear, Ultra Boy! D

Ornitho: A changeling whose power was the ability to change into any kind of bird. Prompting Chameleon Boy to snort uncontrollably while saying, “You’re shitting me, right?” D

Quantum Queen: She was “able to alter the very molecules of her body to any form of light radiation,” meaning (for a start) she could travel at the speed of light unaided. Not a bad super-power to have and it’s a mystery how she got stuck with these guys; probably one of those “it’s who you know” situations. Or someone’s got pictures of her. C+

Elvo: Not an elf, but a “master swordsman.” In the 30th century, mind. Sure. D

Immorto: He can’t die. That’s it. No blast powers, no mind control, no invulnerability, he just comes back to life again and again and again no matter how many times you raygun-atomize his ass. I mean, I can see this power having its practical applications in one’s daily life — hailing taxicabs comes to mind — but on the whole: meh. C-

Psyche: this “mistress of emotions” was capable of affecting emotions of other people, making her one of only two Wanderers (both of them, coincidentally, being the only women on the team) with a decent shot at joining a real super-team, but she opted to stay with this bunch of losers. Maybe her influence is what keeps the others from getting depressed and killing themselves? C

Dartalg: A blowgun, people. A goddamn blowgun. In the far-off future where teenagers are wielding the power of suns in the palms of their hands, this guy brings a &#%!# blowgun to the party. This isn’t even a “Green Arrow or Hawkeye fighting off alien armies with arrows” thing; this is a moron with darts and a long tube looking at an army of invading Khunds and saying, “I got this.” I mean… I just… AAAAARRRRGH! D-

Warlock of Ys
I really don’t know what to say about this guy; he’s yet another alien sorcerer with “great sorcerous powers” who can do anything he wants except conjure up a pair of pants. Absolutely nothing interesting about him sets him apart from all the other evil sorcerers, though I admit that one line of his in that JSA Thanksgiving story (“One… two… three… four. There’s quite a few more than we thought, aren’t there?”) was comedy gold. C-


Speaking of guys in need of pants. Captain Codpiece here started life as Travis Morgan, an Air Force pilot who bailed out over the North Pole, only to fall through an inter-dimensional nexus and land in Skartaris, a land that’s basically a week’s worth of a fantasy nerd’s wet dreams. After saving his future wife from a dinosaur, he learns the local lingo, brushes up on his swordsmanship, gets sold into slavery, fights as a gladiator, leads people to freedom — you know, all the standard tropes. As for the bachelorette party get-up, I’ll assume the climate in Skartaris is a bit warmer than here, but one thing always bugged me: what kind of animal did Morgan have to kill to find that codpiece topper? A saber-toothed squirrel? And how do you suppose that animal would have felt knowing it died to have its skull stewing in some dude’s nut fog until the end of time? B

Warlords of Okaara
Once a peaceful race, the inhabitants of the 13th planet from Vega were tricked by an evil god into committing acts of war that culminated in OH MY GOD I CAN’T EVEN PRETEND TO CARE ABOUT ANY MORE OF THIS OMEGA MEN CRAP. They were like the Jedi masters of their star system, and they lived in holes in the ground. That’s all you will ever need to know. D+

You say you need to know everything there is to know about the Brotherhood of Evil’s resident teleporter? Well, too bad, because “little is known about how French national Emil LaSalle acquired his teleportation powers,” or why he hates Madame Rouge so much, or pretty much anything else about him, really. I don’t know, does anyone else find it vaguely insulting to the French that their representative on this super-villain team is a guy who specializes in hasty retreats? C-

War Wheel

Think a Ferris wheel from a broken home that joined a biker gang. This is a wheel made for warring, people — a bazillion-foot-tall rolling mass of steel and spikes and machine guns that mercilessly mows down anything in its path. And who could have unleashed such a monstrosity upon the world? Why, the Nazis, of course — which is why to this day people in Belgium break out in hives if they see so much as a unicycle heading their way. Me? I like to imagine all the Nazis inside the War Wheel making it move by running like hamsters inside one of those plastic balls. It’s funnier because Nazis are doing it; I don’t know why, it just is. BONUS ODD FACT: Blackhawk and his buddies defeated the War Wheel twice using the old “lure the giant heavy wheel into quicksand” trick. How much quicksand is there in Europe, anyway? B+

Wayne Foundation
Did you know Batman has a day job? It’s true! And here’s the building where he helps out Gotham in various non-vigilante ways. The penthouse apartment at the top is also where he hung his cowl during his swinging ’70s bachelor days, with a secret elevator shaft (“shut yo’ mouth!”) through an artificial tree trunk(!) that took him to a smaller version of the Batcave that was located underneath the building. And notice the passive voice I just used, because good luck getting anyone to explain how a secret elevator and underground superhero headquarters could ever get built without dozens of contractors wondering what they were for. Once more, I return to my theory about whose remains lie at the bottom of the Batcave… C+

Oh, for the love of… HE’S A GODDAMN FURRY, PEOPLE! He’s not a guy with “weasel vision” or someone with the proportionate strength and speed of a weasel, he’s just an asshole in a weasel costume killing people who called him names 20 years ago. OH BOO FRIGGIN’ HOO! Why is he allowed in a Firestorm comic? Why is he allowed to buy a Firestorm comic? Dying horribly in an issue of Suicide Squad was really the best he could have hoped for. D-

Weather Wizard
Debuting in Flash #110, this member of Flash’s Rogues Gallery has the power to… wait, come back! I promise, he’s not all that bad. Okay, yes, it’s a little coincidental how his hermit genius brother discovered how to control weather right before dropping dead of a heart attack, an event that happened right before Mark Mardon showed up looking for a place to hide from the cops. And it stretches credulity just a bit to advance the idea a convicted burglar had the scientific know-how to construct a weather-controlling wand with only the help of his dead brother’s notes. And yes, he is yet another in a long line of super-villains who discover or invent something with the potential to earn the right patent-holder billions in profits, but instead use their creations to rob banks and annoy dudes who wear their underwear on the outside. But my point is he… wait, what was my point? Right, the point is he didn’t completely suck. Which, for a Flash villain, is about as good as it gets. C

“When a problem comes along / You must whip it…” 1940’s Flash Comics #1 featured the debut of Flash, Hawkman and Johnny Thunder — two bona fide Golden Age heavyweights and a solid second-stringer. Not too shabby, right? Annnnnd then you had the Whip, a millionaire named Rodrigo “Rodney” Gaynor (no, really!) who decides to follow in his masked ancestor’s footsteps and “protect the poor from exploitation and injustice.” Get a law degree and open a legal aid office? Use his fortune to lobby for immigration reform and labor rights? Pffft. Boring! Surely, the best use of his time and resources is riding around Mexico on a horse while whipping things! But at least he carved a small niche for himself and scored a Who’s Who entry, unlike that Cliff Cornwall douchebag (“Who?” you ask. Exactly.) C-

White Witch
The existence of the White Witch — or Mysa, as she’s known to her Legionnaire friends — makes me angry. Not because she’s a badly developed character — well, she is, only because “child with perceived handicap grows up to find the real power she had inside all along” is a well-worn trope at this point — it’s just… well, let me repeat what it says in her “Powers and Weapons” section: “The White Witch is a sorceress of extraordinary ability, able to cast spells that affect basic forces of the universe, people and objects.” So far, so good, right? “The disciplines required for each spell require different forms of preparation, however, so she cannot use most of her complex skills at will without advance preparation.” You can see the problem, I trust. “Hey, Darkseid! Listen, I know you’re on a schedule with the whole ‘and lo, the stars themselves will bleed’ thing, but I’ve got an awesome new hex I want to try out on you. I just need to pop out to the library for a quick sec. Hang tight, I’ll be right back. There’s cheese in the fridge if you get snacky!” D+

Wildcat I
One of the things I like about Who’s Who is the way it gets straight to the point. For instance, the “Powers and Weapons” sections for most characters don’t get too verbose about what they can do, or get bogged down in pointless measurements and minutiae. But Wildcat’s entry puts all the rest to shame: “Wildcat is a brilliant and formidable hand-to-hand combatant.” That’s it. And really, what more do you need? He’s a boxer who decided that was enough to fight crime. He’s not even a boxer who learned how to super-box after traveling to Tibet and mastering the Sacred Fist of Thunder or whatever; he’s just a guy in a catsuit who punches people. Which makes him absolutely useless when, say, Solomon Grundy crashes your bar mitzvah, but there’s something undeniably appealing about a working-class hero joining the ranks to keep the Justice Society real. The fact he was once voiced by Dennis Farina doesn’t hurt, either. B-

Wildcat II
Do you think Todd McFarlane cares that no woman would ever sport that much hair, especially if she’s in the crime-fighting business? No, probably not. Also, FYI, Todd, we can see she’s an attractive woman; you don’t need to outline her areolae to make it clear. The goddaughter of the original Wildcat, Yolanda Montez gets her “uncle’s” blessing to carry on the fight after his legs are crushed in battle (spoiler: he gets better). Plus, thanks to the intervention of an insane gynecologist, she possesses “certain feline superhuman powers,” such as retractable claws and the ability to scale walls… which I’ve never seen any cat actually do, but let’s just go with it. She later joined Infinity Inc., which knocks her down half a grade but at least shows she had more sense than Halle Berry when she signed up for that Catwoman shitstorm. C-

So after the first few waves of golly-gee prepsters and sorority girls, the writers working on the Legion of Super-Heroes realized hey, this is the 30th century we’re talking about, and so they tried adding some characters with a little more sci-fi cred. Drake Burroughs was a college student who got caught in your typical lab explosion, turning his body into “sentient anti-energy.” Now, I knew a lot of college students in my day, most of them seven years into a four-year degree, who could also be classified as “anti-energy,” but in Drake’s case it meant he now has to exist in a specialized containment suit that promised him some semblance of a human existence. And of course, this being the comics his new state of existence also bestows upon him the ability to fly, throw energy blasts, etc. He replenishes his energy reserves by the anti-energy in his form reacting constantly with “the positive matter of our universe” — not including the material in his containment suits, obviously, since they’re all made out of… oh, let’s call it Convenium. B-

Hey, look! Wing scored his own entry! That almost makes up for being the eighth member of the Seven Soldiers of Victory! Proudly carrying on a tradition of Asian sidekicks whose real names were clearly not worth a white boss’s time to learn, Wing was chauffeur to Lee Travis, a.k.a. the Crimson Avenger. His thirst for justice was awakened by Imperial Japan’s then-recent incursion into China, which left three million of his fellow Chinese dead, so he jumped at the chance to follow his boss into the crime-fighting business while wearing a bright yellow (…really, guys?) costume. After busting heads for a few years, he “heroically sacrificed his life” to defeat some outer-space doofus, and his boss honored his memory by promising to “look into this massacre thing any day now, honest.” B-

Witch Boy

Better known as Klarion the Witch Boy, so good job there, DC’s alphabetical aces. Then again, maybe they didn’t file him under K because they wanted to put off dealing with this creepy little shit for as long as possible. I mean, geez, look at him. It’s like the love child of Marilyn Manson and every crazy-eyed bag lady down at the bus station. Spent his free time hassling Etrigan the Demon, which sounds about right. Brrrr. C+