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

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Time once again for our look back at Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe. This week: Volume Ecks-Ecks-Eye-Eye-Eye, from Syrene to the Time Trapper.

There isn’t much to say about the letters column (the usual mix of “Ha! I found a mistake!” and “How come you guys didn’t list Queen Projectra?” stuff), so let’s talk about the cover by Joe Staton and Mike DeCarlo instead.

Frankly, it’s terrible. And it’s not even my usual “Why did they put a nobody like the Tarantula in the prime cover spot?” or “Why is the Terminator’s gunfire just stopping in midair?” complaints. No, it’s because there’s no spatial relationship between any of these characters. Look at some of the earlier Who’s Who issues and you’ll get a mix of characters in various poses and sizes, but there was also a sense of perspective: it really looked as if characters next to each other were actually standing next to each other, and the smaller characters really were standing farther away from you. Here? I can’t tell what the hell is going on.

It looks like the artists drew each of the characters individually in different sizes and then just pasted them on top of each other. Look at Timber Wolf and how Terra, Thunder and Lightning look like tiny people underneath his feet. Or how Terminator and Tempest seem to be springing into action side by side, yet Terminator is about four times bigger. And is that the Time Trapper or a pile of the Hulk’s laundry waiting to be folded? It’s just a bad composition all around. 

Sadly, there isn’t much relief to be had inside. Heavy hitters are somewhere between rare and non-existent in this issue, certainly compared to the big names in the last issue. At best, there’s nothing wholly terrible or really awesome about this issue… just a lot of characters that fall somewhere in between.

So on that happy note, let’s get right to it. Onward!

Syrene
Quick tip for future Who’s Who writers: any bio that starts with the phrase “More than a million years in the future” should, for legal reasons, also include the same “do not take while operating heavy machinery” warning they put on medicine bottles. Like Terra-Man, whom we’ll meet shortly, Syrene was a Superman villain from the pre-Crisis days, and at the time this issue came out she hadn’t yet been re-introduced into the new DC universe and therefore didn’t officially exist. And yet here she is. It was a confusing time for fans, let’s just leave it at that. As for her story, it was your standard “born in the future to powerful sorcerer with magic rock, other powerful sorcerer tries to steal magic rock, dad throws magic rock back through time right before second sorcerer kills him, daughter thinks ‘whatevs’ and marries second sorcerer, they discover magic rock in 20th century and fight Superman, husband goes to hell, wife goes back in time to 14th century with magic rock, husband makes deal with Satan and fights wife for magic rock before bringing Superman back in time and splitting him in two, wife kidnaps half of Superman, husband follows her, wife uses magic rock to kill Superman, husband brings Superman back to life, half-Superman follows other half-Superman back in time and becomes whole Superman again before sending husband and wife forward in time to fight each other.” You know, that old chestnut. D

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Tala

Confession time: when my son discovered the Justice League Unlimited show, he asked me who the magic chick on Luthor’s team was, and I had no idea. “Why… that’s Tala,” I said. “She’s a sorceress and… oh look, Grodd just did something!” So thanks, Who’s Who, for having the scoop on her. Or maybe not — aside from having a fetching bod and listing “Creator of Chaos” as her occupation, this entry doesn’t even confirm if she’s human or supernatural, just that she enjoys corrupting human souls while occasionally trying to seduce the Phantom Stranger. Good for her. Note: her height is listed as 5′ 10 1/2″, and God help you if you forget that half-inch. C+

Talia
Why is her full name listed as “unrevealed”? Wouldn’t she be known as Talia al-Ghul? I confess, I don’t know how these things are supposed to work in Arabic traditions. She’s the loyal daughter of Batman baddie R’as al-Ghul, forever torn between her devotion to her father and her love for the Dark Knight. I can totally see why Batman would want to hit that, but she didn’t do much for me until she got out from under her father’s wing and became the ruthless CEO type. Talia in a business suit and heels can merge my corporate entities anytime. “She is skilled with most hand weapons although she has shown a preference for archery, but we’re gonna show her using sais in the background art because we want you to think this gal is just like that Elektra chick that you ’80s nerds can’t seem to get enough of.” I may have made up that last part. B+

Tamaran
This entry gives you some idea of the kind of popularity enjoyed by the Teen Titans at the time Who’s Who came out. Planets like Krypton and Thanagar got separate entries because they’re the home planets of major-league heroes within the DCU. Tamaran is the home of Starfire, a Teen Titan whom I humbly submit is not a major-leaguer. Further cementing my disinterest in this fictional planet orbiting Vega: the art shows “northern hemisphere” and “southern hemisphere” views with no sign of polar ice caps; Tamaran’s people use their science “only for pleasure, or to enhance their military needs” (because there are other reasons for civilizations to make scientific advances?); and the “lifestyle of the upper class resembles that of Renaissance Italy,” which is a polite way of saying “they’re a bunch of gossiping twits more concerned about fashion trends and palace intrigue than ensuring good governance.” Pass. C-

Tannarak
He’s an alchemist and sorcerer whose fear of death led him to capture his “aging factor” within a statue and periodically drain the “life essences” from others to stay young. Think The Picture of Dorian Gray only not as original. He also has a Van Dyke beard and little tufts of hair shaped like horns just in case the whole “draining life essences” thing didn’t make it clear where he stood on the good/evil spectrum. D+

Tara
Gents, a little advice: if you’re looking to woo a lady, there’s nothing more romantic than parachuting from the sky and saving her from a carnivorous dinosaur. Works every time. The wife of Travis “Warlord” Morgan and queen of Shamballah, a great city-state within Skartaris, Tara is a fearless warrior, skilled rider and (mostly) faithful wife, with her marriage often strained by the Warlord’s frequent skedaddling in search of adventure and “seeming abandonment of his ambition to bring freedom to all Skartaris.” Man, even in an other-dimensional realm a guy can’t go let off some steam with his buddies without the ol’ ball and chain going nag, nag, n— oh, hey, honey! Uh, I didn’t see you come in. What’s that, you want me bump her up half a grade for having to deal with an inconsiderate jerk for a husband? No prob! B+

Tarantula
Now, this is an interesting one. One of your more minor Golden Age heroes, Tarantula was as generic as you could get, right down to the yellow-and-purple outfit and token gimmick (suction cups on boots that allowed him to walk on walls but somehow didn’t impede his normal stride because science!). For crying out loud, his name is literally “Johnny Law.” So when Roy Thomas was looking for Golden Age characters to populate his All-Star Squadron in the ’80s, this guy was as blank as slates can get. Artist Jerry Ordway whipped up a new costume that was more in line with the spider theme and Thomas gave him an interesting hook: he was a novelist researching the “mystery-man” phenomenon for a book he wanted to write, and decided to become one himself in the process (much the same way Stephen King once decided to become a pyrokinetic innkeeper held captive by a psychotic nurse while trapped underneath an impenetrable dome). This makeover didn’t propel Tarantula to the big leagues, but it was a nice example of how the right approach can bring out the best in even the least interesting characters. Plus, I love the image of everyone in the Squadron’s cafeteria clamming up whenever he walks in. “Hey guys, what are you talking about?” “Nothing quotable, that’s for sure. Let’s go, people!” B

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Tattooed Man

This Green Lantern foe was an ex-sailor-turned-burglar who discovered — much the same way you or I might discover a genie in a bottle during one of our jaunts to the grocery store — a chemical that could be used to draw pictures that come to life. So he turns the chemical into tattoo ink and plasters all kinds of images across his body: snakes, dragons, fighter jets, you name it. Further, we’re told the ink contained a “yellow chemical in the compound” that made them impervious to Green Lantern’s ring. Uh-huh. Sure. Even if we allow for that bit of auctorial cheating, even if we remotely believe there’s any actual science behind the properties of this amazing chemical… come on. I mean, look at the images he goes with. A dragon, sure, that could come in handy. And maybe the fighter jet for quick getaways, assuming he knows how to fly one. But an anchor? What’s he going to do with an anchor, drop it on Green Lantern’s foot? Are Flash and Hawkman supposed to run off in a panic because an axe or a bird suddenly appeared out of nowhere? Why do I get the feeling that if I tattooed the word “LOSER” across this guy’s forehead and touched it, a second Tattooed Man would show up? D

Taz
Another character from the Atari Force comic. The boycott continues. D

Teen Titans
Why, Mr. Pérez, you do know how to put the sunshine in my day. Lovely two-page group shot showing Titans past and present for this one, along with some interesting tidbits I didn’t know about the group before reading this entry. For instance, did you know the first time the group broke up was because they accidentally caused the death of a speaker at a peace rally? And they only got back together after a financier convinced them to join his program “of training teens to utilize their potential” — and it wasn’t a cult or pyramid scheme? Or that Speedy was one of the first Teen Titans to sign up but insisted he could only be on the team part-time? I bet it was because of the smack. You think it was the smack? Probably the smack. A-

Teen Titans Tower
Because a club is only as good as its clubhouse, the Teen Titans got themselves a sweet crib on an island off Manhattan in the East River, complete with gym, pool, labs, submarine dock, you name it. Who paid for it? Does it comply with all local and state building codes? Is it LEED-certified? Who does the housekeeping and do they get time-and-a-half if the Fatal Five show up? Who cares! It’s awesome and I want one! FUN FACT: the team’s previous headquarters was in the basement of a Long Island discotheque. Make of that what you will. A

Tellus
In this great land where I live (Canada), there is a phone company (Telus) that’s famous for ads featuring live animals being all cute and adorable while the screen text hawks the company’s rates and services. So every time I see this member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, I think of their Christmas ad featuring the song “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” Sad to say, there’s not much else I remember about this character; a telepath from an aquatic race, he needed portable life-support equipment to survive in Earth’s atmosphere. Which makes as much sense as putting John Travolta’s character from The Boy in the Plastic Bubble in front-line combat, but I guess we’re just supposed to roll with it. C-

Tempest I
This Doom Patrol member has a pretty conventional origin story — born in the slums, shipped off to war, discovered his powers in combat, on the run for desertion — until we get to this part: “With his connections in the underworld, Joshua was able to secure papers establishing himself as Jonathan Carmichael, M.D. Thanks to his years of private study, Joshua easily passed his New York state medical boards and, with loans secured from a friendly loan shark, bought an established Park Avenue medical practice.” Two things: (1) It’s not exactly promoting faith in the health-care system to learn that any well-read transient can just walk in, write an exam, and get his medical licence and (2) a “friendly” loan shark? How does that work, exactly? Does that mean he sends flowers after he beats you for being late with your payment? Can he hook you up with a genial arsonist, a gregarious druglord, or a hitman with a song in his step? C+

Tempest II
Atari Force’s resident pretty-boy hothead with daddy issues. Moving on. D

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Ten-Eyed Man

“The most dangerous man alive” is how Batman described this guy during one of his less prescient moments. Why so dangerous, you ask? It’s because, through the magic of comic-book science, his optic nerves got re-routed through his fingertips. Hence, you know, “Ten-Eyed Man.” No, I admit I don’t get it, either. Aside from any number of everyday actions with your hands that you probably don’t want to view in extreme close-up, how exactly is this “power” a plus in combat? For crying out loud, he can’t even wear a pair of gloves without blinding himself — which means, in the background image that shows him robbing a jewelry store, he’s leaving incriminating fingerprints everywhere. Dead now, and deservedly so. D-

Terminator
More often referred to these days as just “Deathstroke” for obvious reasons, Deathstroke the Terminator is Slade Wilson, superhuman mercenary. Back in the day, he’d show up once in a while to give the Teen Titans some grief before disappearing until the next time he chose to kick some ass. And it was good. “Super-competent mercenary with personal code of honor” isn’t exactly original as far as characterization goes, but it worked for him. I can only guess that some DC executive really, really liked the character a lot, because at some point in the 2000s he started showing up in pretty much every big DC storyline as a major-league baddie, always hatching plans within plans and coming to the party with motives no one can really figure out but hey, lookit how cool he is taking down the whole Justice League by himself! It got to the point where he’s now essentially the Evil Batman of the DCU: the perfect human with the smarts and skills to take out just about anyone. And honestly? I kind of preferred the old Slade Wilson. Greatly overexposed of late but still fun in the right hands, so let’s go with a B-

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Terra

Oh, Terra. Just how many young comic fans’ hearts did you break back in ’84? She was a member of the Teen Titans who (in the classic “Judas Contract” story arc) turned out to be a traitor, happily betraying her teammates for no reason other than getting back at the world for serving her up a steaming helping of a crappy life. You could tell she was a bad girl because she swore like a sailor and (gasp!) smoked, and it was strongly intimated in Code-approved ways this wayward 16-year-old and the Terminator were close in ways other than alphabetical. I’m not even going near that last point, but I will say this: it took a lot of guts for Wolfman and Pérez to follow through with their plan to turn her bad (and then kill her off without redemption) after her good-girl act had won over so many fans. It’s probably a good thing the Internet wasn’t around back when the issue containing Terra’s death hit the stands; Marv and George might have had to go into witness protection. B+

Terra-Man
“Base of Operations: Outer Space.” Well, that narrows it down. Terra-Man started out as the son of an Old West outlaw who is taken away by a space alien visiting Earth for a pit stop. The alien was also an outlaw, so he trained the boy in the ways of interstellar thievery, equipping him with a winged horse that can fly through space and deadly alien plant spores that looked like tumbleweed. No, really! And with all of the known universe to choose from, Terra-Man heads back to Earth a century later and tangles with Superman because… reasons! I don’t know know what’s more baffling, the fact this guy made more than one appearance in a comic or the decision to stick the main art for this entry way up in the corner, presumably so we can have more space to show Terra-Man trying to rob an airplane in mid-air. Um… how would that work, exactly? D+

Terrible Trio
This is a trio of “brilliant criminal inventors” who wear business suits and animal masks (fox, shark, vulture) while committing crimes on land, at sea or in the air. You can guess which one specialized in which. What I can’t figure out is how they got the Vulture guy to go along with this. I mean, we tend to keep our banks and gold depositories on land and lots of valuable items are shipped by sea all the time, but how often does an opportunity to commit a mid-air robbery present itself? He and Terra-Man should trade notes. Then there’s the fact the trio gets caught because Batman deduces they keep repeating the same sea/land/air sequence of thefts over and over, and so he and Robin hide in the only ship that was apparently shipping anything valuable at that time and catch them when they show up. Gotham’s jails would be a lot less crowded if more criminals could overcome their obsessive-compulsive disorders. C-

Thanagar
Hawkman’s home planet is your typical sci-fi world — technologically advanced race, one global government, fun rituals like the annual Impossible Day celebration — but with one exception: the concept of crime was unheard of until the alien Manhawks showed up to loot and plunder. Once exposed to the idea of thievery, Thangarians took to it with gusto and the planet’s first police force was formed. Okay, first, I’ve got a problem with this whole “what is… crime?” line they’re selling us; even if Thanagar had somehow eliminated poverty and envy, you would think a few mentally ill kleptomaniacs would have kept the concept of stealing alive in some form. Second, Hawkman and Hawkwoman’s motive to come to Earth was to study our police methods. Hands up, now — does anyone think we’re really the best tutors in the galaxy to teach that particular field of study? C

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Tharok

Tharok, buddy, I get it, I really do. You were just a petty criminal in the 30th century doing petty criminal stuff when the left part of your body got accidentally vaporized by the cops, and you ended up looking like half of Mr. Clean grafted on to half of a Terminator. That would make anyone feel conflicted about their relationship with law enforcement. But I gotta ask: why are you only wearing clothes on your human half? How are you only wearing clothes on your human half? You do know you can wear normal clothes and we’ll still get that you’re a cyborg, right? C-

Thia
Just to give you some idea how dated this entry is, we learn that this ancient Titan of myth and goddess of the sun married “one of the world’s richest men” about twenty years ago, “the president and publisher of Sun Publishing.” Remember the days when lists of the world’s richest people could conceivably include guys who printed newspapers and books for a living? Me neither. Hard to grade Greek gods who are dicks to humans since that’s pretty much the whole point of being a Greek god, so let’s award Thia a nice, middle-of-the-road C

Thinker
A snazzy piece of Gil Kane art can’t mask the inherent conceptual flaws behind “genius criminals” like the guy. Clifford Devoe was a DA who decided crime did in fact pay after losing one too many court cases. So he pimped his services to the criminal bosses he once targeted, offering his brilliance in exchange for a piece of the action. Later, he donned a “thinking cap” that boosted his mental powers and (in typical Silver Age fashion) bestowed whatever powers the writers felt like giving him (“Teleportation? If he can think hard about doing it, why not?”). One: no matter how cool writers think it is, “super-thinking” is not the kind of power that translates well on the comic page. Two: doesn’t wearing a costume, challenging superheroes to fights and calling attention to yourself go against the whole “criminal genius” thing? Wouldn’t the smartest criminal be the one whom no one suspects of being a criminal because he does the opposite of what a guy like the Thinker does, starting with finding untraceable ways to amass money with minimal effort? D

Thriller
“And nothing’s gonna save you from the beast with forty eyes…” This was a very odd series that came out in the ’80s; I’ve read the entry a couple times and I’m still not sure what the hell it was about. Near as I can tell, it’s about a woman (Angeline Thriller, because that’s now a common surname) who gathers a bunch of extraordinary people for typical save-the-world missions, but… she exists only as energy? Or she’s a spirit? Or a science experiment gone awry? Anyway, the roll call covers the standard adventure team types: lantern-jawed tough guy; emergency back-up lantern-jawed tough guy; hot chick with porn-star name; wisecracking kid; non-human type searching for his humanity; sullen guy whose deformity is also his super-power. I have this urge to yell “Bingo!” C

Thunder and Lightning
Not to nitpick, but there’s only one weight given for both characters, and I refuse to believe the bulky bruiser on the left is the same weight as the lean dude on the right. Be better, DC! These are brothers born to a Vietnamese woman and a space alien disguised as an American soldier during the Vietnam War. Apparently, the alien crash-landed on Earth 600 years ago in what’s now known as Cambodia and waited until the 1960s, when the whole region was embroiled in war, before trying to retrieve his spaceship. Somehow his ship’s automatic defences didn’t recognize him when he tried to access it, so he said “F– it” and shacked up with one of the locals just long enough to get her pregnant. You might notice I’m spending more time being fascinated by the story of the father of these mutant twins than the twins themselves. There’s a reason for that. C-

Peter Cannon… Thunderbolt!
Yet another Caucasian kid raised in a mystical Tibetan place “which contained secrets of mental and physical powers lost to the world.” Once grown, he set out to New York City with Tabu, his “lifelong friend” and training partner. Soon after he arrived, though, New York was attacked by a whopping two whole dinosaurs as part of a scheme by one of his enemies. “Cannon realized his powers could be of aid in this crisis, yet feared becoming involved in a modern civilization of wars and hatred he wanted no part of.” THEN WHY THE HELL DID YOU MOVE TO NEW YORK CITY IN THE FIRST PLACE, NUMBNUTS??? Oh, and his “Powers and Weapons” section perpetuates that bullshit about how most humans only use 10% of their total brain power, and you just know that’s worth a paddlin’. Or at least a half-grade demerit. D

Tiger
Hey, a reminder of America’s shameful treatment of its own citizens during the Second World War! Who doesn’t love that? Tiger (no other name revealed) was a kid in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans who was recruited by a Japanese spy to pass along secrets from the camp. Exactly what important secrets a camp full of disenfranchised civilians would have — and why some 10-year-old kid would be privy to them — was never really explained, but that’s okay because JUDOMASTER ACTION KICK AWESOME BAD GUYS IN YOUR FACE HI-YAAAA!!! Tiger helps Judomaster capture the spy and becomes his sidekick in the process, kicking enemy butt while wearing the colors of Imperial Japan — which probably didn’t test well with enlisted men and veterans in consumer focus groups, but what the hell. C-

Tigorr
Hang on to your hats, DC Nation, because that feline alien who can shape-shift into a tiger-like creature who lives in a star system billions of miles from Earth? His name is Tigorr! No, really! He’s a member of the Omega Men who’s noted for his bravery and ferocity in battle, yet the entry leads off with him being born “to an unwed mother who had little time for him.” That… sucks? I guess? It’s funny how the “token Wolverine-like berserker” of the team starts with this maudlin bit and ends with the news of him being elected chief administrator of an alien space colony. Can’t do much worse than these guys, I guess. C

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Timber Wolf

Speaking of Wolverine ripoffs. The Legion’s resident hairy guy with anger issues didn’t start out that way; he was once Brin Londo, a resident of the planet Zoon who was given super-powers by his father’s experimental ray. But the ray also “weakened his mind” in such a way that an android serving his father was able to convince Londo that he was in fact the android, and that the android was the human son of Dr. Londo (who died and was therefore useless in sorting things out). This raises questions. Was the android tired of being treated like an appliance? If so, why go to the trouble of convincing Londo he was artificial? Was the android after an inheritance? Was there no one else on this planet who knew the Londo family? If androids are so lifelike (and duplicitous) in the 30th century, then why isn’t there an easy way to detect them? And how is it Londo never experienced an injury or illness during his deluded state that made it clear he’s flesh and blood? I take it back: ripping off Wolverine was a step up for this guy. C+

Time Commander
He’s a scientist who mastered the actual, no-fooling art of travelling through time using whatever he could find in a prison lab, and what does he do with this godlike power? He hides behind a clock company billboard while trying to convince the public he was railroaded into prison, and somehow decides capturing Batman and Green Lantern will help clear his name. Sigh. You can drop the ball an inch from the hole, and some guys will still whiff the putt. D-

Time Trapper
Despite a name that sounds like he should be hawking binders for disorganized high school students, the Time Trapper is one of the sturdier DC villains, and certainly the most fearsome Legion foe. This mysterious, faceless figure rules Earth in its dying millennia at the end of time, occasionally striking out at heroes in the past, apparently for no reason other than sheer bloody-mindedness. He also put up a an impenetrable barrier around his native time period, using this “Iron Curtain of Time” to prevent nosy time-travelling types from going too far into the future, like a grumpy continuity traffic cop. Other villains might fume and sputter like Yosemite Sam, but not this guy — he literally has all the time in the world, and he knows it. He’s basically entropy in a purple robe, and how can you not love that? A-

 

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2 responses to “Making the Grade: Who’s Who, Vol. XXIII

  1. Nice coverage! Not sure if you’re aware, but myself and Rob Kelly produce a monthly podcast on Who’s Who. We’ve been doing it for about 2 years and just today released an episode on this issue! If you are interested, you can find it on THE FIRE AND WATER PODCAST on iTunes. Or over on AquamanShrine.net or FirestormFan.com. Keep up the great work!

    • Thanks! For sure, I’ll go check it out now… (comes back a few minutes later) Wow, and I thought *I* was obsessed. 🙂 Looking forward to going through the rest of them.

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