“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in…”
So like I was saying the last time we met, I was having so much fun grading the DC characters that appeared in the original Who’s Who series that I decided what the hell — let’s do more! This week: Who’s Who Update ’87 Vol. 1, from All-Star Squadron to Catalyst.
No doubt trying to keep the momentum of the original series going, this issue came out a mere four months after Who’s Who #26 hit the stands. And while you might think that’s not enough time for DC to come up with enough new characters to fill five more volumes, keep in mind this was a busy period in DC’s history, with a lot of new characters hitting the scene and a lot of old characters getting complete reboots, prompting the need to give them revised entries (which were marked as such in the text). Add that to the inclusion of other older characters who were left out of the first series by accident or design, and you can see how easy it was for DC to fill up five more issues (and four more beyond that, in ’88).
The cover is competently constructed by Joe Brozowski and Dick Giordano, though I’m still trying to figure out what that brown stuff is that Batgirl is riding her hog through. Two things I do know for sure: (1) Booster Gold would be the world’s biggest photo-bomber if he were a real person and (2) Batman is a dick to patients in iron lungs.
All-Star Squadron (Revised)/Young All-Stars
The team that brought most of DC’s wartime mystery-men together for fun and hilarity starts us off with a revised entry that… frankly makes me wonder why the editors even bothered, to be honest. Sure, there are a few more faces in the group shot this time, and the text makes a point of explaining Uncle Sam and some other heroes split off at the request of the president to work as a separate unit. But the sole reason for an updated entry appears to be introducing us to the Young All-Stars — which is strange since there’s very little in the text that explains anything about the junior-league version of the team, like how they came together in the first place. So… what up, DC? C+
Man, when John Byrne was handed the Superman file he went all in, didn’t he? Only three issues into his relaunched Superman series, and he’s already packing our boy off to Apokolips to face off against Darkseid — and daring to add new characters to the King’s cast of kooky Fourth World characters, to boot. Amazing Grace is a double agent who specializes in infiltrating rebel groups and quelling dissent from within, using her enhanced charisma powers to inspire the lowly masses to rise up just as Darkseid’s forces move in to crush their spirit, probably while blaring John Mellencamp’s “Authority Song” while they’re at it. She’s not as gloriously over-the-top as, say, Granny Goodness or Virman Vundabar, but I can see how a guy could be persuaded to go Les Misérables over a rockin’ bod like that. B-
A lovely image here by Keith Giffen, but the text only serves to remind me how pissed I am at DC for mucking around with its characters for no reason other than to muck around with them. She started out in her first series as every young girl’s wish-fulfilment fantasy, a young-girl-turned-princess-of-magical-realm who might have given Harry Potter a run for his merchandising if she had been given the chance. But then someone decided to inject the Lords of Order and Chaos into her history, she’s blinded in a mystic battle, she finds out who she really is, and she’s “absorbed into Gemworld itself,” with her life on Earth erased from the memories of her adoptive parents. You just know Doctor Fate never had to put up with crap like this. D+
“As the god of war, Ares is obstinate, hateful, wicked and untrustworthy.” You might know him better by his professional name, “Dick Cheney” (rimshot). No surprise, Ares figures big in the new Wonder Woman’s entry into Man’s World; it was his malevolent machinations that led to her leaving Paradise Island to do battle in the world of Red Bull, sexist mud flaps and idiots issuing rape threats via YouTube comments. His marital status is listed as “Divorced” — and suddenly I have visions of him in a Chuck Lorre sitcom set in a Boca Raton condo for divorced single dads. But only if Stephen Tobolowsky is in the cast; that man is a national treasure, y’all. C+
A lot of heroes went through some big changes right before this issue came out, and while Green Lantern didn’t start over from scratch like Superman or Wonder Woman, his book saw its share of shake-ups. A big change for him was the removal of the “only one Green Lantern per space sector” rule, leading to the relocation of several Green Lanterns, including Arisia, to Earth. A teenager when she first received her ring, she fell in love with fellow Corps member Hal Jordan, who showed some rare restraint by not reciprocating her underage affections… until her ring, like a magical deus ex machina from a whimsical Tom Hanks movie, subconsciously sensed her wish to grow big and made it happen, leaving Jordan tripping over himself for a taste of that suddenly legal alien tail. “But Hal, you realize that mentally she’s still the equivalent of a 15-year-old g—” “I CAN’T HEAR YOU, LA LA LA LA.” C+
My, that Todd McFarlane fellow certainly, ah, appreciates a good set of hips on a woman, doesn’t he? Plus I’m pretty sure an “extraordinary all-round athlete” and ace archer like her wouldn’t have a country-star hairdo spilling over one eye and going down to her extremely tapered ankles. “The Sportsmaster and the Huntress named their daughter Artemis after the Olympian goddess of the hunt (see Olympian Gods).” Yeah, we kind of assumed that was the case, DC. But thanks for assuming we’re idiots. C-
Okay, you guys are seeing the same thing I’m seeing, right? It’s not just a trick of the light? This dude really is missing his armpits? Wow. Yeah, I’m not sure gaining the power to fly through space and hurl power bolts from your hands make up for the fact that the only chicks you’re going to score with that look are the ones with serious amputee fetishes. But then, it’s the 30th century, so God only knows what’s considered sexually mundane a thousand years from now. D
Hey, here’s a question no one has asked in the past eight and a half seconds: what if we had a team of villains who were like an evil Justice League? Well, they might look like the Crime Syndicate. Or the Injustice Gang. Or the Legion of Doom. Or a dozen other examples. Or they might look like these guys who first went up against the Young All-Stars:
Übermensch: the Superman of his group, because his name literally means “over-man” and the Germans came up with the superman concept before anyone else so shut up already. He has all the stats of the original Superman: leaps one-eighth of a mile, nothing less than a bursting shell can penetrate his skin, etc. He is also bald (or doing that “shaving his head to make his male-pattern baldness look like a personal statement” thing) because all bald people are inherently evil. Yes, even Bruce Willis. Especially Bruce Willis. B-
Die Grosshorn Eule (The Horned Owl) and Fledermaus (The Bat): hey, look, it’s Batman and Robin only with the species reversed! They had no powers, just lots of training and ropes to swing from. This seems odd, since Nazi scientists in comic books are always giving away powers to anyone who showed up at their ultra-secret labs. I mean, they’re Nazis, for crying out loud — “natural-born Aryan superiority” is all well and good for Leni’s B-reel footage, but you don’t win wars by sending glorified acrobats up against dudes like Green Lantern and Doctor Fate. My guess? The Horned Owl is the biggest dick in the team and someone in R&D just “forgot” to give him powers. D
Gudra the Valkyrie: the team’s answer to Wonder Woman, she had the usual Valkyrie powers: super-strength, flying horse, invulnerability to cold metal brassieres. She also carried a special spear that could kill with a touch. This sounds impressive until you realize all spears can kill with a touch, give or take a little applied pressure. Nevertheless, she’s the only member of this team who can claim an honest-to-Wotan kill: TNT, the adult partner of Dan the Dyna-Mite. Okay, so it’s not like she snuffed anyone who matters, but still. Credit where it’s due, people. C
Sea Wolf: The team’s answer to Aquaman, who someone apparently saw as more of a wolf. Okay, then. I dunno, I know my dog enjoys paddling in the water when he’s at the beach; I’m not aware of the werewolf’s natural affinity for the ocean, but I might have slept through one of the boring parts of the Twilight films (a.k.a. “the entire goddamn franchise”) that mentions this. D-
Usil: a super-archer from fascist Italy, he earns bonus stupid points by using a bow and arrow in the middle of a shooting war. (Green Arrow and Hawkeye get a pass because they’re generally not using arrows in a shooting war. Also, they’re awesome.) I can’t read his lines without imagining him talking with the same voice as the restaurant owner from Lady and the Tramp. Which probably says more about my national prejudices that I should be sharing. At any rate, D-
Sort of a Spock-with-goatee-mirror-universe version of James Bond, this guy is a freelance spy/assassin working for whichever government hires him; when this issue came out, that was the Soviet Union, so it’s safe to assume he’s since moved on to new clients. This guy sounds like the beginning of an interesting concept, but he appeared mostly in the old Outsiders comic, so nothing about him was really fleshed out. Pity. C-
Proving once again that barons in comic books are evil (seriously, guys, chip in for a publicist or something), Baron Tyrano is a wealthy man whose health problems confine him to a massive life-support machine, earning him the nickname “The Man in the Iron Lung.” His one goal is to find a way to escape his physical prison, so naturally he tries to forcibly switch bodies with Green Lantern. Man, first Hector Hammond, now this guy — you’d think the evil mind-switching invalids of the world would start out small with a mailman or pizza delivery guy before moving up to superheroes known for higher-than-average willpower. He also wears a monocle, raising questions about what a guy lying in an iron lung needs to look at all day that requires clear vision, and also whether it’s polite to laugh when he turns his head and the eyepiece slips off his face. (“Hello? Anyone? Little help here…”) C-
Like the All-Star Squadron’s revised entry, there isn’t much new to say about Batgirl here, other than Commissioner Gordon has been rewritten to be her uncle and adoptive father rather than her biological dad (who died from alcoholism after his wife died in a car accident; young Barbara was shipped off to her aunt and uncle after that). Nifty piece of Rick Leonardi art, though Barry Kitson would later be tapped to draw 1988’s Batgirl special, Barbara’s first solo title and her last hurrah as a costumed crime-fighter before… well, you know. C+
Now this is how you properly showcase the Dark Knight. The editors of the first Who’s Who series got a lot of flak from fans for allotting Batman just one page while other, lesser lights in the DC universe got two pages to strut their stuff. But in the editors’ defense, it was pretty obvious from its early issues the first Who’s Who series was a work in progress. Either way, a revised entry was warranted; the text contains details about Batman’s past that at the time had just been introduced in “Batman: Year One,” Frank Miller’s retelling of Bruce Wayne’s early years, and the follow-up “Batman: Year Two.” Not much to say about the guy that hasn’t already been said a million times over, so let’s properly acknowledge the editors’ righting of past wrongs with a whole-hearted A+.
Or “Beautiful Dream” if you’re French-impaired, this is the maximum-security prison for super-villains that first appeared in… huh, the editors forgot to add the “first appearance” tag. Tsk, tsk. Anyhow, it’s also the secret headquarters of Task Force X, better known as the Suicide Squad, and we get some mugshots and brief bios of some of the team’s ground crew to go with the prison’s blueprints. But I’m more interested in how they determine which villains get sent to this little corner of Cajun paradise. We’re told “each cell is specially devised to hold its inmate,” which makes sense — you have someone like Parasite or Typhoon in the house, you want a surefire way to neutralize their super-powers. But the Thinker? Chronos? The Penguin? Take away their fancy helmets and flying clocks and trick umbrellas and they’re no tougher to corral than anyone from the cast from Orange Is the New Black. Heh, Penguin versus Big Boo, now there’s a match-up I’d pay to see. B+
In keeping with DC’s apparent directive to tone down the whimsy in Superman’s stories, John Byrne’s re-imagined Bizarro is the result of a failed experiment funded by Luthor to create a Superman clone, his chalk-white skin and muddled thinking the result of the technology’s failure to decipher Superman’s alien DNA. This version of Bizarro (who’s not even called that in the one and only story he appeared in by the time this issue came out) is more tragic than comic, so… yeah. Not much to poke fun of here. Oh, wait! The magical healing Bizarro dandruff! I almost forgot about the magical healing Bizarro dandruff that just randomly cures blindness in suicidal flight attendants for no discernible reason! For real, John — what the hell was that? B-
Captain Marvel’s arch-enemy* (*non-mad scientist division) got left out of the first Who’s Who, and it’s just as well — 1987’s Shazam! A New Beginning, a mini-series that re-introduced Captain Marvel to the hip youngsters of the ’80s, had just wrapped up, and Black Adam got a few tweaks to his backstory. Not yet the somewhat sympathetic anti-hero he would later become, this Black Adam was your straightforward former-hero-corrupted-by-bestowed-power type, making me wonder why the wizard Shazam didn’t just Ctrl-Z his ungrateful powered-by-the-gods ass and be done with it. Even low-end treadmills come with a kill switch, Shaz! Plan ahead, that’s all I’m saying. C
Let’s take a moment and salute the mooks of the comic-book world. You know the guys I’m talking about: the hitmen, the hired guns, the ones who show up near the end of the movie to give the hero a quick workout right before he moves on to the final showdown with the main villain. Not quite a nameless henchman but nowhere near the top of the food chain, either, mooks fill a valuable niche in the comic-book ecosystem, equivalent to that of the pro-wrestling jobbers who gain some small measure of fame by fighting under their own names and getting their asses kicked to make other wrestlers look good. There is nothing remotely interesting or notable about Blackguard, a mook hired by The 1000 to hassle Booster Gold. His special power is he can create a mace and shield out of energy, so maybe his ridiculously ornate costume is meant to have some kind of “knight from the future” motif. Doesn’t matter. Because he doesn’t matter. But at least he scored himself a page in Who’s Who. It’s the best a mook can hope for. D+
I think it’s time we declare a moratorium on the whole character-who-uses-anachronistic-weapons-in-a-futuristic-setting thing. “Oh, no! It’s Black Mace, the reasonably strong guy who hurls his mace at things. How can we, the Legion of Super-Heroes, ever hope to defeat… oh, wait, Matter-Eater Lad just ate his mace. Annnnd Karate Kid just kicked him in the face. That’s a wrap, people!” D-
Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, China Beach… it’s fair to say Hollywood in the ’80s got a lot of mileage out of the Vietnam War, and the comics weren’t far behind, injecting a bit of Vietnam commentary wherever they could. When Robert Du Bois received his draft notice, he fled to Canada to avoid serving, and his brother took his place. After his brother came home missing his arms and legs, the guilt-ridden Du Bois became obsessed with the war and how Americans were “wasting” the freedom his brother had fought to defend. Always happy to scoop up a disposable patsy, Luthor armed him with weapons powerful enough to take down Superman, but somehow the world’s smartest man didn’t realize arming a bloodthirsty psycho and setting him loose in a major city might be a bad idea. Better luck next time, Lex! By the way, you might have noticed this is Byrne’s third contribution so far to this Who’s Who series. Get used to it. C
Blue Beetle I (Revised)
The first Blue Beetle goes back a long way, starting out as one of the more obvious Green Hornet rip-offs and morphing into a chain mail-clad hero powered by the natural goodness of chemistry. Here, he’s recast as an archaeologist who (all together now) finds an artifact that bestows incredible power and (all together now) vows to use it to fight crime. But wait! It turns out the blue scarab he found was actually an alien artifact that (all together now) tries to take over his mind and so (all together now) he dies a hero’s death resisting its power. According to this bio, he was also someone who “was an Olympic-level athlete” and “possessed super-human strength” at the same time, so you figure that one out. C
1. His home base was Chicago. Go, Blackhawks!
2. When he needed to recruit friends to stop his mad scientist uncle from taking over the world with his secret island base of super-androids, his first call was his old college professor, who unbeknownst to Ted just happened to be the retired superhero known as the Blue Beetle. That shows Ted has really good instincts.
3. He decided to carry on the Blue Beetle name after his friend’s death despite having no powers of his own save for some technological creativity and a Bally’s membership. That shows gumption.
4. He designed a flying, remote-controlled bug that’s fully submersible and decked out with “high-tech computers.” None of those low-tech, non-submersible computers for Mama Kord’s little boy!
5. His main weapon is a strobe light that doubles as a hair dryer set to high.
6. His book was a fun throwback to Marvel stories from the ’60s, with guilt trips, secret identity crises, peppy receptionists, unspoken crushes, shadowy conspiracies, one-note villains that showed up and disappeared after making one appearance, you name it.
Come on, folks. You know he deserves the love. He certainly deserves more than to be remembered for “BWAH HA HA!” and getting shot in the head. B
I loved me some Booster Gold back in the day. Sure, there were a few kinks in how they got his story started. (He steals a 30th-century time machine from a 25th-century museum to come back to our time? So… how does that work? Why would a museum have a time machine from the future on display? And why would it be functional enough to send him back in time?) But even in my younger years, I knew the idea of everyone in the superhero biz having the same altruistic motives was totally bogus (to borrow a word my people used a lot back then). It was the high-rolling ’80s, after all, a crazy time when we were making celebrities out of CEO bastards and loud-mouthed ladies in fast-food commercials. Why wouldn’t a brash superhero want to cash in on his fame? Plus Booster’s existence made possible “The Greatest Story Never Told,” easily one of the top ten Justice League episodes ever. And don’t get me started on how much I wanted my own personal Skeets. B+
I honestly don’t know what to say about Brimstone. His occupation is listed as “avenging angel,” but he’s not even alive — he’s just some techno-seed thingie given the form of a 50-foot-tall fire monster and sent off to destroy stuff. It’s like trying to describe the personality of the gun that killed Bruce Wayne’s parents, or the feelings of the fondue pot from that one time that someone invited you over for fondue. And it wasn’t even good fondue, but you didn’t want to be rude. D
Captain Atom (Revised)
The people behind Captain Atom’s DC revival deserve a lot of credit for capitalizing on the government-conspiracy pop-culture wave that would crest in the mid-’90s with shows like The X-Files. At a time when Americans were hearing details daily about arms-for-hostages deals and Nicaraguan freedom fighters, the former Charlton hero was re-imagined as Nathaniel Adam, a condemned U.S. soldier from the 1960s who was thrust 20 years forward in time by an experiment that also gave him amazing powers and a shiny new sheen. The government kept his true origin (and his ties to the military) a secret, feeding the public a fake story that sounded a lot like his origin from his Charlton series. It was a brilliant premise, offering boatloads of drama and intrigue beyond the usual hero/villain dust-ups, not least because of the tension between Adam and his government handlers, who were always willing to pull the “national security” to justify everything they did. Really, you should go check it out. B+
Captain Marvel (Revised)
Shazam: The New Beginning was DC’s first attempt to integrate the Big Red Cheese into its larger, post-Crisis universe. Gone were the talking tigers and the Hill Billy Marvels and other, more whimsical aspects of Captain Marvel’s past; instead, Sivana was recast as Billy Batson’s evil uncle plotting to get his hands on the money Billy’s parents left him when they died. Oh, and the pre-teen Billy is a TV reporter instead of working at a radio station, because that’s far more believable as an after-school job. It worked… in the sense that it did bring Cap into the “official” DC universe. But artist Tom Mandrake (who drew both the mini-series and this Who’s Who entry), best known for his work with darker characters like Batman and the Spectre, is better at stories involving heroes who aren’t quite so… ah, sunny. So the mini-series wasn’t bad, just a bit jarring to longtime Shazam! fans (Sha-fans?). C
So remember when I said one of the charms of Blue Beetle’s comic was the line-up of villains who showed up, got their asses kicked and disappeared after one appearance? That includes this guy. And let’s be honest, if you’re an indestructible battle robot who gets your ass kicked by a lab geek with a fancy hair dryer, you deserve to disappear for a long time. But there’s something so old-school about Carapax that I kind of want to see more of him. He’s a pissed-off archaeologist who comes across a robot body in a mad scientist’s abandoned lab on a desert island; he dies while trying to re-activate it, but somehow transfers his mind into the robot’s circuits. And while being stuck in an indestructible body might have its perks, he was still trapped on the island with no way to get off — and things only got worse when Blue Beetle, objecting to a hitchhiker with murderous intent, dropped him in the middle of the ocean. Did he show up anywhere else? I’ve no idea, but I hope he did; I like to imagine him using the time he spent walking across the bottom of the Pacific Ocean floor calculating every possible way to remove Blue Beetle’s vital organs once he hit dry land. Because that’s the real key to happiness, keeping your mind active. C+
It’s hard to take this guy seriously when his name reminds me of a certain Latina flamenco guitarist/frequent Love Boat guest star from the ’70s (ask your parents, or go look it up on that Wikipedia thingie you kids are always copying from). “Cuchi cuchi!” Another minus in his column is… well, he doesn’t really add much to the whole “super-villain shark” genre, does he? I mean, you’ve already got your King Shark, your Killer Shark, your Tiger Shark, your Great White Shark, your just plain Shark, all kinds of shark-dudes with the teeth and the fins and the bloodlust and so forth. Also, he came with big metallic shoulder pads and those big, flappy appendages on his forearms and skull, neither feature really working to cement with the image of the sleek, hydrodynamic predator that one tends to picture when hearing the word “shark.” Though to be fair, I don’t recall any of those other guys scoring their own hot groupies — namely “Rema” and “Mora,” two ladies who are probably way more familiar with Sea World’s anti-molestation measures than we dare contemplate. D+
A Legion of Super-Heroes villain who hooked up with the Fatal Five, she started out as an ordinary mercenary who demanded super-powers as payment for a job; she was given the ability to secrete a powerful, flesh-melting acid from her hands as a result. But that’s not important. What is important is the fact that, according to my many years of research, Caress is the first comic-book character to break the boob-window barrier. Her bold costuming choice paved the way for future boob-window wearers like Power Girl and… um… other equally prominent figures. We salute you, boob-window pioneer! B+
A homicidal mercenary in the employ of a giant pharmaceutical conglomerate? Ha ha, what crazy imaginations those comic writers have! As if the companies that make our drugs would ever do anything evil to increase their profits. Catalyst, a dude who can secrete any known drug through his fingertips, had just been introduced in the Blue Beetle book when this issue came out, so we don’t get a whole lot of backstory about how he became Keith Richards’ dream wingman. What we do know is that Catalyst “wears fingerless gloves, allowing him greater access to the flesh of his victims.” That’s the kind of attention to detail that I can appreciate, like all the times in the old Spider-Man comics that Peter Parker was shown taking off his shoes before scaling a wall whilst in his civilian identity. Because climbing walls while wearing your shoes? That’s just silly. B-