Making the Grade: Who’s Who Update ’87, Vol. 3

whos-who-update87-3

Time for our weekly look at one of the ways we organized our vital comic-related information before this Internet thing came along: Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe: Update ’87. This week: Volume Three, from Gray Man to Lionmane. 

I’ll be honest — there’s a lot happening in my personal space right now, and I don’t have a whole lot to say about this issue outside of what I’ve said about each entry below. So let’s get right to it. Cover art is by the late, great Eduardo Barreto. 

Onward!

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Gray Man

He’s a sorcerer who pierced the dimensional barriers and found the realm of the Lords of Order, godlike beings who were so impressed by his feat they rewarded him with “the eternal assignment of collecting leftover dream essence from people who die.” But he saw the task as a form of punishment and started collecting dream essences from the living, causing people to fall into comas until the Justice League put a stop to it. So… he never had the option of just saying no to the assignment? Not one Lord of All Things Orderly thought to check in on him later, maybe do a few quarterly reviews to see how his eternal task is going? Sounds like a review of their HR protocols is in order. So to speak. C

Green Lantern Corps
Right around the time this Who’s Who update came out, DC tried to shake things up in Green Lantern’s book by renaming it The Green Lantern Corps and moving five of its alien members to Earth to join Hal Jordan and John Stewart for fun and adventure. It didn’t work. Picture a team of Justice Leaguers or Teen Titans where everyone has the exact same powers and color scheme, and you start to see the problem. The other problem came from the series being too grounded — literally — with the team mostly staying planetside to battle the likes of Baron Tyrano and Evil Mikhail Gorbachev (seriously), instead of going after the cosmic-scale villains you’d expect to find in a Green Lantern comic. (And don’t get me started on how the new Earth-centric premise meant no more back-up stories by guest writers eager to explore strange new worlds.) Not the worst era in Green Lantern’s history, perhaps, but that’s not saying much. D+

Guardians of the Universe
If that Green Lantern movie got anything right, it was giving the alien Guardians a look that was, well, alien. You live five billion years and use that time to harness the power of will and train a bunch of intergalactic beat cops, chances are you aren’t going to look like a bunch of short Israeli prime ministers in bathrobes, either. There’s not much new in their revised entry except a postscript telling us they decided to skip the whole policing-the-universe thing and “removed themselves to unknown realms” to cavort with tall gladiator babes. Can’t say I blame them. B-

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Hazard

Now, this is just not right. Rebecca Sharpe is the granddaughter of the Gambler, the gambling-themed Green Lantern foe who took his life after losing everything to a force even more evil than a super-villain: a crooked casino. She decided to avenge his death with the help of special dice she used to somehow alter probability. And she’s not a bad person; she hooked up with the Injustice Society only as a means to an end, and joined on condition they didn’t murder anyone. Plus her costume (visor, puffy sleeves, tails, fishnets) makes her look like a sexy riverboat dealer. Motive, powers, costuming — she just works on every level. So what did she get after her debut in Infinity, Inc.? Just one lousy cameo in an all-female battle royale in an issue of Wonder Woman. No justice! She better show up as a guest villain on that Flash show, that’s all I’m saying. B+

Himon
Once your inner 12-year-old stops giggling over anatomical terms half-remembered from health class, this is a pretty interesting character. He’s a big-shot scientist on Apokolips who invented all kinds of cool things, like the Mother Box and Boom Tubes, before realizing that letting a guy like Darkseid have them probably wasn’t the best idea. So he turns into a revolutionary, preaching peace and freedom on a planet with precious little of either, and encourages a young Scott Free to escape to Earth. None of this explains why he chooses to wear a jumbo-sized turtleneck collar on a planet where raging fire pits suggest finding ways to keep warm is not an issue. To each their own. B

Hippolyte (Revised)
And not “Hippolte,” as the front cover index would have you believe (“Who’s Who proofreaders: keeping life error-free since 185!”). Perez rewrote Wonder Woman’s history, so her Amazon queen mother gets an updated entry, too. The biggest physical change is the switch from blonde hair to black, making her look more Mediterranean and more like Diana’s mother. I heartily approve. C+

Host
Um…wow. I really don’t know what to say about this one. The Host was a giant robot containing the disembodied minds of 500 members of the H’v’ler’ni race, a bunch of advanced beings who lived in a city in South America about 500,000 years ago. When disease threatened to wipe them out, 20 million of them left Earth in spaceships while 500 stayed behind as members of the Host, biding their time until humans reached a suitable evolutionary stage of advancement, at which point the H’v’ler’ni would take over the minds of 500 humans and rule the world. But they got into a fight over which one of them could claim Superman’s Kryptonian carcass, and the Host suffered a massive short-circuit and exploded. So, to sum up: an advanced race living half a million years ago on Earth somehow managed to invent interstellar travel and perfect the art of transferring hundreds of minds into a robot — somehow skipping basic germ theory and vaccinations along the way — all while leaving no trace of their civilization behind, except for one artificial being/computer that survived a half-million years of jungle rot, seismic shifts, volcanoes, llama guano and God knows what else to wake up just in time and meet the one guy who could screw up all their plans. Right. D

Hybrid
Assembled by the former Doom Patrol member known as Mento (“the freshmaker!”) to battle the Teen Titans, the Hybrid is… sigh. Okay, it’s like this. Some family business came up this week, and so I didn’t have as much time to write this week’s post if I want to get it up by my self-imposed deadline. A deranged billionaire uses a magical element to turn a bunch of accident victims into his super-powered accomplices right before they get trounced by a bunch of kids and a beetle-themed guy with a fancy hair dryer. That is literally all you need to know. D+

Ian Karkull
He’s a bald dude who dressed like a genie’s cabana boy and thought tussling with Doctor Fate was a good idea. He can also turn into a shadow wraith and tries to take over the world because. That’s it, just because. Aside from him providing a contrived excuse for how half the Justice Society is still in fighting form 40 years past their prime, there’s absolutely no reason for you to know or care about him. At least he had the good sense to use his own name. Far too many world-conquering types waste time trying to come up with a catchy name. C-

Icicle II
Like Hazard, he’s a second-generation super-villain who joined the Injustice Society; unlike Hazard, there’s nothing remotely interesting about him. So of course he’s the one who scores a “special guest star” spot on Young Justice while Hazard continues to languish in limbo. Young Justice? More like no justice! “The second Icicle is quite athletic and is adept at swinging on ropes.” Because that’s the first thing you want to know when you see a cold-based villain, how good he is at swinging from ropes. D

Infinity, Inc. (Revised)
Yep, “revised.” Are you dying to know about the changes that DC’s premier Hollywood-based superhero team of the ’80s experienced between 1985 and 1987? You are? Really? Huh. Okay. Well… Power Girl dropped by for a spell. And Solomon Grundy hung out with them during one of his less interesting periods. And the rhyming skeleton guy from Helix was placed in the team’s custody by a judge who was probably moonlighting as a writer of hilarious odd-couple screenplays. And that Silver Scarab guy turned into a ghost or something that looks like it’s sticking its tongue out all the time. So… yeah. C+

Injustice, Unlimited
The 1980s iteration of the Injustice Society, it was composed of three original IS members (Shade, Wizard, Fiddler) and three protégés of past members (Artemis, Icicle, Hazard). They didn’t last long as a team, with only the kidnapping of a bunch of boring business leaders attending a Calgary convention on their mutual rap sheet. But that’s all right, because they mostly got what they came for and made both the Global Guardians and Infinity, Inc. look like dweebs. All in all, not a bad day’s work. B-

Iron Munro
One of the (many) big impacts of Crisis on Infinite Earths on the DC universe was the elimination of the Golden Age versions of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. With those characters firmly established as present-day heroes, Roy Thomas (who was writing the WWII-based All-Star Squadron at the time) decided to replace them in the “new” history with three brand-new heroes: Fury, Flying Fox and Arnold “Iron” Munro. The latter had the same spit curl and powers of the Golden Age Superman (leap 1/8 of a mile, nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin, etc.), but he eschewed the predictable cape and tights for pants and a T-shirt, giving him more of a pulpy Doc Savage feel (but in a good way). Problem was, he didn’t add anything new to the mix, and later efforts to further integrate him into the DCU just came off as half-hearted attempts to make readers care about him by having other characters go on about how cool he was. And that’s not cool. C-

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Jihad
A mostly Arab group of assassins and commandos from the days when everyone east of Greece and south of China was given the same green-grey skin coloring in the comics. Now I know how older people feel whenever someone brings up Amos ‘n’ Andy or those WWII-era Looney Tunes shorts featuring buck-toothed Japanese soldiers: “Look, we didn’t know any better back then!” C

John Constantine
“Occupation: World saver.” I’d love to see how the British equivalent of the IRS reacts to seeing that on a tax form. This Who’s Who entry came out just before Constantine’s Hellblazer series, so we get lots of “enigmatic” and “little is known” stuff here about Constantine’s past. What we do know: he travels the world, nailed Zatanna during their college years (dude!), and “has contacts on all seven continents” (including Antarctica? We have mystical penguins now?). Under “Powers and Weapons” there’s the suggestion he may have some precognition, but that seems unlikely given how he didn’t stop that Keanu Reeves movie from getting made. B+

Justice League (Revised)
Oh my, yes. Now, there’s a school of thought out there that says the Justice League, unlike the rotating-door-membership that is the Avengers, is and must always be composed of (as the covers used to say) “the world’s greatest super-heroes.” And I can understand that point of view; having heavy-hitters like Batman and Superman on your team is what separates the Justice League from the Infinity, Incs. of the world. But give Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire props for putting a unique spin on the franchise that gave the spotlight to some deserving second-stringers, delivered some great moments, and — most importantly — reminded the rest of us that comics are supposed to be fun. Yes, it didn’t last long and they got too cutesy as time went on, but those early issues? Oreos? L-Ron? One punch!“…? “BWHA-HA-HA”…? Comic gold, man. A

Kalki
Riddle me this: where do evil scientists get the scratch to build secret bases around the world? I mean, yes, I suppose I should wonk on about this guy’s Doom Patrol connection or how his mutated torso is a gateway to another dimension, but how does a simple biochemical physicist go from researching cures for diseases to fooling a couple of locals into believing he’s a reincarnated Hindu god to having a worldwide army at his command? Granted, there’s an element of religious fervor here, but come on. If someone hasn’t done this already, we need the definitive story of a super-villain’s bookkeeper — someone who makes sure the henchmen are paid on time, processes their health-care claims, and still finds great deals on surplus weaponry and second-hand death traps. C-

Katma Tui
Not a badly conceived character and certainly not an offensive one; I’m almost tempted to bump her up half a grade based solely on the fact her Green Lantern uniform covers all her body bits. But she doesn’t really add much to the mix; she’s a Green Lantern who almost quit the Corps to have a family, didn’t, and later fell in love with and married fellow Corps member John Stewart. And that’s pretty much all we get to know about her. Yawn. C-

Kilg%re
So, how do you pronounce that? Kilgore? Kilgolore? Kilpercentsignre? It’s an “electro-mechano-organic intelligence” from another star system that hops from planet to planet in search of energy, depleting each world as it goes. It was stopped by the Flash who… I’m guessing outran it? Basically, it’s Galactus without the style, majesty, apocalyptic undertones, or panache. Pass. D+

Kilowog
Given Kilowog’s prominence in recent Green Lantern projects (like the 2011 film and that CGI cartoon from a few years back), I was a bit surprised to learn he didn’t appear in the comics until 1986, when he joined a few other Green Lanterns on Earth for emerald-hued adventures. It’s not hard to see why he would become more popular than, say, Ch’p or Salakk: from the Thing to Hodor to the Iron Giant, nerds will always have a soft spot for the gentle giants among us. Plus, his name is so much fun to say. “Kilowog.” Hee. B

Kite Man
“Real Name: Charles (Chuck) Brown.” Oh, DC, you blockheads. And if that wasn’t groan-worthy enough, this ambitious hang-glider botches a few high-flying robberies in Gotham City before moving to Midway City to try his luck. Midway City. The place known as the home of Hawkman — a hero whose entire goddamn shtick is flying. In the words of Snoopy: “AAAAAUGH!” D-

Krypton/Kryptonite
On the whole, I think John Byrne did a half-decent job re-interpreting Superman in the ’80s. He took out a few of the sillier aspects of the Superman mythos (like Superman’s less-used and thoroughly ridiculous super-powers), added depth to supporting characters like Lex Luthor and Lois Lane, and gave Superman a much-needed dose of humanity to go with his other-worldly origins. Having said that… I think he went a bit too far when it came to Krypton. I understand why a world of fire creatures and jewel mountains would be too fanciful for Byrne’s “realistic” take on Superman, but turning Kryptonians into yet another highly advanced/socially sterile/central government-controlled alien race (see also: basically every sci-fi future dystopia ever) creates more questions than answers. If Kryptonians lost their interest in science long ago, then who built and maintained the machines that did all the work? Why would Jor-El have “an experimental star-drive unit” handy on the off chance he’d need it, if Krypton had no space program? For that matter, where would he have gotten the information needed to build a rocket if space travel was such a no-no for his people? Why were he and Lara, alone among billions of Kryptonians, able to feel love for each other and for their son? If Jor-El was able to pull in hi-def pictures of shirtless Kansan farmers from 50 light-years away, then why didn’t his people use that ability to turn into cosmic voyeurs? I mean, it’s not like they had anything else to do with their time. C-

whos-who-ladyblackhawk
Lady Blackhawk

Hey, at least they didn’t go with She-Hawk. When she first tried to join the Blackhawks, she was told “the Blackhawk codes forbade women from joining the team.” Yeah, no girls allowed! ‘Cause, you know, once you let them in they get all girly and tryin’ to change stuff, like hanging curtains in the cockpit windows, or putting scented candles all over the hangar, or making everyone put chargers under their dinner plates in the mess hall. (For real, what’s up with that? They’re just plates to hold plates, right? I’m not missing something here? Anyway.) It only took her saving the entire team for her to get awarded honorary membership. Geez, don’t knock yourselves out showing your gratitude, guys. Out of solidarity, B

Lady Shiva
Can we all agree there are few things in this world that nerds find hotter than Asian women who can kick ass? And by “nerds,” I mean “any straight biological organism with a penis.” First appearing in Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter, Shiva was brought back in the ’80s to spar with the Question before moving on to whichever title needed a no-nonsense martial-arts mistress that month to fight and/or train other heroes. Which of course you already knew, being one of the nerds I just mentioned. But did you also know her real first name is “Sandra”? Smart move going with “Lady Shiva” as a working name, although I can imagine how much more humiliating it would be for bad guys to admit they got their asses handed to them by a Sandra. B

Legion of Substitute Heroes (Revised)
Sorry, gang. I knew the Legion of Substitute Heroes. The Legion of Substitute Heroes were friends of mine. And you are no Legion of Substitute Heroes. WE WANT INFECTIOUS LASS! WE WANT INFECTIOUS LASS! D+

Lex Luthor (Revised)
Much-improved version over the original “mad scientist with bug up his ass over his hair falling out” for several reasons. You need serious capital to build the kind of hardware needed to take down the Man of Steel, and there’s no point in being the world’s smartest man if you’re going to spend your days skulking around secret lairs and hiding from the law. And while no one is saying every big-time CEO is a raging egomaniacal criminal who keeps his hands clean by delegating the dirty work to underlings he’d throw under a bus in a nanosecond to save his own skin… let’s just say there are enough of them in real life to make this incarnation of Luthor a little more believable than, say, Hackman’s subway-dwelling real estate speculator. My only grump with the entry is this part:

“Mayor Frank Berkowitz… appointed Superman a special deputy on the spot and had him arrest Luthor. When Luthor objected that he himself was the most powerful man in Metropolis, Berkowitz replied, ‘No, you’re not, Lex. Not anymore.’ In other words, Superman now was.”

Wow, glad you tacked on that last sentence there, Who’s Who writers. Otherwise, I would have been up all night wondering who the mayor was talking about. A

whos-who-lionmane
Lionmane

Another goddamned archaeologist who finds another goddamned relic/meteorite/alien artifact that transforms him into yet another goddamned superhero/super-villain/beast-man, this time with leonine features and… um, the ability to create a vacuum in a confined area? (Bet you never saw that on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom). The part of this page I love the most is the piece of background art showing the look of disgust on Carter “Hawkman” Hall’s face as our hapless victim touches the meteorite and starts turning into Lionmane. “Christ, again? Look, we know you’re turning into some kind of savage were-lion creature. But maybe you could be a little less of a drama queen about it?” D+

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