Sweet merciful crap, is it time to do this again? Looks like. Today, as we forge our way through Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe: Update ’87, we look at Volume Four, from Lois Lane to Rampage.
And hey, look! For the first (and only) time, the cover chores are handled by Calgary’s own Todd McFarlane! Now, I’ve been a wee critical of McFarlane and his influence on the comic industry in the past, I admit that… but I’ll also admit he did a very fine job with the composition of this layout. For instance, I thought the use of Mr. Bones’ cigarette smoke to form the shape of a question mark around the Question was a nice touch, as well as having the DC bullet in the bottom left corner double as one of the balls thrown by Overthrow.
That said, this early piece of McFarlane’s work is showing some of his unique style flourishes that were starting to annoy me even in his early Spider-Man days, like the excessively intricate smoke curlicues, the gnarled and knobby hands and fists, the hunched-over and overly dramatic poses.
And the capes. Oh, God, the capes. Edna Mode from The Incredibles would be smacking Todd silly if she saw this image (seriously, look at Power Girl’s cape poofing up over her shoulders and trailing off to the right behind the index box; it’s verging on self-parody, and McFarlane was still only just starting out at this point). “NO CAPES!”
Lois Lane (Revised)
Changes since her last Who’s Who entry: (1) She’s now a former army brat, growing up on bases all over the world instead of a farm. (2) She never met Clark Kent during her childhood, instead meeting him for the first time when he scoops her with the story of Superman’s first appearance. (3) On top of her award-winning journalism, she’s also a successful mystery writer. (4) She’s been romantically pursued by Lex Luthor in the past, but she rebuffed his many advances because she ain’t no dummy. Does any of this make her less awesome than before? No. No, it does not. A+
Lords of the Ultra-Realm
And now it’s time for the “ripping off Mattel’s Masters of the Universe as much as we can” portion of our show. Bunch of muscled dudes in a fantasy world with vaguely medieval trappings waging a never-ending war, with the “good” side full of romance novel cover models and the “bad” side containing extras from a Megadeth album photo shoot? If there isn’t a talking tiger and/or squeaky-voiced “comedy” relief in the mix, I’m genuinely shocked. D
A bunch of cuckoo acrobats with serious fashion issues, they originally appeared in the old Ditko Blue Beetle books. In their first DC appearance, they were hired to trash Ted “Secretly the Blue Beetle” Kord’s corporate offices as a distraction for another bad guy. “When Fleeter [the ringleader] attempted to slay the Azure Avenger with an experimental laser-cannon, the Beetle blew him though a wall with a compressed-air blast from his newly improved BB-gun.” Three things: (1) I’m pretty sure that “Azure Avenger” thing never really took off. (2) He got thrown through a wall by a compressed air blast? Yeah, no, he’s dead now. (3) “The Beetle blew him through a wall,” you say…? Hee. C
“So what’s her shtick?”
“She’s nuts and she steals pretty things.”
“Yeah, just like half of the Gotham white pages. Seriously, what’s her gimmick?”
“Yeah, like Joker has lethal joy buzzers and squirting flowers, Penguin’s hung up on birds and umbrellas, Catwoman loves cats… What’s her gimmick?”
“Well, she’s obsessed with shiny things, mostly jewels. That’s why she’s named Magpie, because magpies steal shiny things for their nests.”
“Okay, then. So why is she dressed like one of David Bowie’s dates from 1982 instead of going with something a little more bird-themed?”
“Because the name ‘Magpie’ comes from her real name, Margaret Pye. You know, Margaret… Maggie… Magpie.”
“Really? Wow. Well, that’s certainly taking the name-as-destiny things to new places. So where did the murderous insanity come in? Was she driven to kill people and steal their jewels by a lifetime of abuse? Was there a dark moment in her past that pushed her over the edge that can also work as commentary on the rampant materialism of the ’80s and its corrupting effects on the human soul?”
“No… no, she was just a girl who got teased a lot about liking shiny things.”
“… I’d like my money back now, please.” D+
Now, here’s a gal who’s got it all figured out. Want fabulous wealth without going through all the hard work of earning an MBA, inventing something useful, or marrying an 89-year-old billionaire? No problem! Just follow the only other surefire way to get rich: become a marine biologist, figure out how to make ocean creatures do what you command, and use them to rob cruise ships! And the entry suggests she even skipped on the “figure out fish talk” part, possibly deriving her powers from an earlier Marine Marauder who may or may not have been her brother. Well, did she or didn’t she, people? I’m a man looking for love, people; it would be nice to know if this saucy little minx is both greedy and lazy. Also? This is the second female villain in a row sporting a fake Mohawk as part of their super-villain costume. I really hope this wasn’t a thing back then. C+
True story: every time I see her name, I get a craving for a nut-based sandwich spread. She’s a rejected Legion applicant who tried to prove herself by infiltrating the Fatal Five and got an eyeful of death as a result. It’s a testament to how shallow I am that I can read this tragic story of a young woman aching for acceptance in this cold universe and think, “Pixie boots? Really…?” C-
John Corben was your average con man/vehicular accident victim when a raving mad scientist found his near-lifeless body on the road and placed his brain in a robotic shell. Why? Because this roboticist/amateur astronomer tracked down Superman’s baby rocket, incorrectly assumed it was a scout ship for an invading species, correctly assumed the chunk of kryptonite attached to the rocket would be lethal to its occupant, and figured that killing Superman with the Terminator’s kryptonite-fueled love child would be Earth’s best bet for routing the alien invasion. Hey, don’t ask me to make sense of a madman’s reasoning, I’m still trying to figure out how mad scientists always manage to be the first ones on the scene whenever there’s a near-fatal car accident in the comics. Beats looking for test subjects on Craigslist, I suppose. B-
Named after the Lord High Executioner from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado (no, I won’t tell you what that is; go get yourself cultured, dammit), this jolly fellow is a doctor driven mad by the relentless parade of human misery he sees and decides the Hippocratic Oath is more of a polite suggestion. “His only weapons have been surgical instruments, which he wields with superb skill and concentration.” Which explains why the picture shows him holding a giant axe. Sigh… C
Even though I’ve got a soft spot for Booster Gold, he faced off against a lot of forgettable villains in his first series. Take this gal, a Cirque du Soleil reject whose shtick is blasting opponents with “brain bolts” that leave them “dazed and powerless,” which describes the state of pretty much anyone at the end of a pub crawl. No backstory, no motive for why she’s part of a criminal gang called The 1000, just a snippet about how the removal of her mask revealed a “skull-head” underneath. What a… twist? I guess? D
You’re crazy if you think I’m going to say anything snarky about the 1940s heroes from Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen who inspired the modern-day titular team to join forces. That series is a goddamn classic, people, and I’d say that even if Moore didn’t look like a crazed mountain man who’d just as soon feed me to his cult followers. A
Formerly a member of Helix, Mr. Bones scored himself a solo Who’s Who entry by switching teams and joining Infinity, Inc. His name comes from the fact his flesh is transparent, giving him the appearance of a buff skeleton; he also smokes and speaks only in rhyme, giving him the personality of that asshole drama English major in college who wandered around campus composing odes to trees. Art by Todd McFarlane, so you know what that means: cross-hatching, overly intricate smoke curlicues, enough cape fabric to carpet the Taj Mahal. C
He’s an old Doom Patrol foe with the power to turn himself into any of 104 elements on the periodic table. Man, between him, Element Lad, the Flash’s Doctor Alchemy, the Metal Men and Metamorpho, I’m starting to think DC’s Silver Age writers were getting kickbacks from the National Chemistry Teachers Institute. Or maybe that Bunsen guy who makes all the burners. C
Hey, what’s everyone’s favorite I Can’t Believe It’s Not Superboy been up to lately? Not much, apparently; aside from a bit of post-Crisis pocket dimension nonsense to explain Superboy’s existence in Mon-El’s backstory, this entry is virtually identical to his original Who’s Who appearance. So let me waste your time by asking this: if this guy comes from a whole planet of people who are genetically identical to Kryptonians and they achieved interstellar space travel by our 20th century, then why aren’t they running the whole damn galaxy in the 30th century? That’s the problem with alien races, no initiative. A-
She’s Bree Brandon, a college business major who rebelled by becoming a vigilante archer and inciting a Pittsburgh mob war. Seems like a rather extreme reaction to family expectations, especially when we live in a world where henna, Marxism and bisexuality are viable options. Naturally, her archery and drama-club disguise skills are too much for Firestorm, who couldn’t capture her in their first encounter because he is a moron. “Having studied shop in high school, Bree gained sufficient knowledge to construct the trick arrows she uses as Moonbow.” And somewhere in the distance, Oliver Queen cries, “The fuck…?!” D+
Another dramatic type rebelling against family expectations, the Muse is Richard Perignon, the son of a mob boss who wants to follow his passion and become an actor. But his insists his Richie take over his criminal empire, so Rich does the only logical thing: he dons a harlequin mask, calls himself the Muse and unites Chicago’s youth gangs to start a mob war and force his dad to retire, only to die taking a bullet meant for his father. I bet The Sopranos would have turned out a lot differently if A.J. tried to pull shit like that. C-
You know what always amazed me about the Warlord title? It takes place in a magical land where we get names like Cykroth the Unholy, Challa-Bel-Nalla, Lord Daamon, Alces Shirasi, Lord Norrad the Younger, Ar-Diamphos, Lord Sabertooth and Azmyrkon… and yet the two highest-profile women in the joint are named Tara and Jennifer. Not sure if I have a point to make here — just interesting, is all. C
Olympian Gods (Revised)
Like before, this entry is a handy Cliffs Notes guide to the major Greco-Roman gods, with notes on the roles they’ve played in the DC Universe. Come for the gorgeous George Perez rendering; stay for the thrill of learning fun facts like Hermes being both the god of commerce and the god of thieves, suggesting the ancient Greeks were amazing at predicting the existence of Goldman Sachs. B
In the same spirit of mediocrity that inexplicably kept this title afloat for several years, here’s me re-running my review of their original Who’s Who entry: “My first question is outside of what, exactly? Outside the law? I suppose we could say that, but every masked vigilante is an ‘outsider’ by that definition, and in any case it’s hard to see the team as a bunch of cah-razy rebels against The Man when they include the sovereign of a European monarchy among their ranks. I’ve dealt with each team member in their own individual entries, and there really isn’t much to say about how they got together as a team; trouble starts a-brewin’ in a fictional European country that brings Batman to the scene, and he runs into a bunch of other mystery-men (and women) who just happen to be there. And when the crisis is over, they decide to stay together as a team. Why? Who knows? But it worked for those Teen Titan punks, so what the hell? If vanilla and beige came to life and had an invisible love-child, it still wouldn’t turn out as bland as this team.” D+
1. “Occupation: Revolutionary anarchist and terrorist.” That is not an occupation. At best, it’s a personal passion.
2. “Height: 5’10″/Weight: Unknown.” Why would his weight be unknown? Did he skip out on the company weigh-in? Do his anarchy principles refuse to acknowledge standard systems of weights and measurement? He’s a fictional character, right? So why not just make it up? He’s 195 lbs. See? Easy.
3. He’s a jai alai player — which involves throwing overhand — who’s into anarchy and sticking it to the man, or “overthrowing” the system. DC thinks I’m okay with way-too-cute puns for super-villain names, and I am not okay with that.
4. Green costume with purple accents? Why pick the one color combination guaranteed to make everyone see you as a second-rate super-villain, unless you’re a second-rate super-villain? (Note: the Joker is the only exception to this rule.)
5. He started his rampage in Chicago by targeting Kord Inc. “as an example to the rest of what Overthrow termed the American Military/Industrial complex.” Wait, so we’re supposed to believe Overthrow came up with that term himself? The writers didn’t put much stock in the readers’ knowledge of history, did they?
6. “Overthrow’s principal weapon is the futuristic weapon he wears on his left hand.” And yet this futuristic weapon is shown in the picture on his right hand — or right forearm, if you insist on being picky. Which we generally do.
7. Want to blow some minds? The same “military/industrial complex” this knob is ranting about is the very reason why he has heavily padded body armor, boot jets and a fancy plasma-hurling cesta to play with. Chew on that, hippies.
8. I don’t know where super-villains get the idea that boot jets make sense from either a practical or aerodynamic point of view, but kudos to the boot jet marketers for keeping their dreams of flight alive.
9. Wait a second. He’s a world-class jai alai player with red hair who’s based in Chicago. What’s with this “identity unknown” shit? How many people could possibly fit that description?
Number of sins: 9. Sentence: Lifetime membership in Blue Beetle’s gallery of rogues. D
Paradise island (Revised)
I was expecting a brief tour of Wonder Woman’s homeland, but instead 9/10ths of the text is about how the Amazons got to the place, with the remaining copy recapping events that led to Diana leaving her home for Man’s World. Perez does his best with insets showing some of the island’s points of interest, but… yeah, no, Fodor’s would not approve. C
The post-Crisis Parasite is the same as the pre-Crisis one, only green instead of purple and first coming out swinging at Firestorm instead of Superman. Oh, and “outer space radioactive goop” has been replaced by “swirling energy from Apokolips” as the source of his energy-sucking powers. Both men also worked as janitors in places that produced drums of toxic waste, both were convinced the company hid the payroll in some of those drums, and both pried a barrel open to look inside with devastating results. First, even if the company was doing that, wouldn’t you want to be extra-sure you had the right barrel before you start prying those lids open willy-nilly? Second, what company in 1987 was still paying its employees in actual cash? Who did these guys think they worked for, a Prohibition-era bootlegger? C-
Uch. Sorry, DC, you can repeat “the man who loves peace so much, he’s willing to kill for it” all you want; it won’t sound any less stupid. This updated entry reveals his family shame (dear dad was a Nazi commander), tragic backstory (dad killed himself in front of his own kid on his fifth birthday), and serious mental health issues (he “hears” the ghost of his father and random victims of terrorism because they… all live in his helmet?). Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, the Question — all these former Charlton heroes found a place in the DC universe because they were based on solid premises. Peacemaker did not, because he’s stupid. And hilariously tragic birthday parties aside, making him crazy doesn’t make him any less stupid. D-
I love this. It’s so Eighties. “Hmmm, I need a Soviet team of superhumans, so let’s name them after the only Russian words I know. Bolshoi, Pravda, Molotov and… um, Hammer and Sickle? Yeah, that works. Oh, and Jim, make the leader look like Ivan Drago. Yeah, the guy from Rocky IV.” They didn’t see much action after 1991, for obvious reasons. C+
Phantom of the Fair
Alter ego: Unknown. Origin: Unknown. Motives: Unknown. Source of powers: Unknown. Reasons for attacking the 1939 New York City World’s Fair: Unknown. Why I’m giving even this much space to a complete cipher who only made the one appearance: Unknown. D
Power Girl (Revised)
Before, she was Supergirl’s counterpart on Earth-2; post-Crisis, she was a woman without a backstory, so DC cobbled a new one up for her involving Atlantis, magic crystal ships and time travel. Did it work? I dunno. I think she’s gone through two or three origin stories since then, so probably not. Art by Mary Wilshire, who does a decent job of making her not look like she’s smuggling watermelons through customs in her bra. Rest assured later artists would rectify that. B-
Ha! You only thought you were imagining those overly earnest anti-drug Teen Titans PSA comics. Licensing conflicts kept Robin from taking part, so DC subbed in this kid, a kid who puts on a generic costume to try to convince his drug-using cousin to get clean. He did this because he remembered the cousin being a big comics fan, and if his family couldn’t get through to him, maybe a “Batman-type super-hero” could. One, his cousin would have to be really wasted to not recognize him in that get-up. Two, it’s probably a good thing I never became a drug addict, because I just had a vision of my whole family staging an intervention whilst wearing capes and spandex. Don’t get me wrong, they’re lovely people, but… yikes. C-
Yes, yes, a quintillion times yes. Blue Beetle and Captain Atom may have found more success becoming integral parts of the DC universe, but DC’s version of the Question was a far better character, and the one most faithful to its Charlton roots (though he did give up the fedora and business suit for a more 80s-style jacket, his appearance in Justice League Unlimited saw him go back to the classic look). As befitting a man who prefers actions over words, his bio is straight to the point: one man fighting the corruption in his city is trained by martial-arts master and aided by professor buddy who provides faceless mask and color-changing gas. Why this hasn’t already been turned into an Arrow-style TV show on the CW network is frankly mind-boggling. A
Fictional places in the comics is nothing new. Doctor Doom needs a place to hang his cape between battles, and making him dictator of, say, Belgium would just be silly. But when comic writers come up with a Madripoor or a Markovia, there’s usually the unspoken rule that the fictional country must not be fixed on a map lest the actual countries who occupy that space take offence (that’s why you get a lot of “Meanwhile, somewhere in Eastern Europe…” stuff in stories set overseas). Which is why it’s surprising to see a map of Qurac that claims several real-life cities within its fictional borders. I don’t recall residents of Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates taking to the streets to protest their countries slapped with a “terrorist nation” brush, which feels like a minor miracle in these more modern (and more tense) times. I know, “it’s only comics” and all, but still. I’m trying to imagine my own Canadian homeland wiped off the map by DC and replaced with “Northern Teutonia, home of the Aryan Nation Moose-Riding Commandos” and I don’t see how I wouldn’t be a little pissed. C+
Is anyone else getting the feeling Byrne wasn’t totally over his She-Hulk crush when he decamped to DC? The Jade Giantess in all but name and skin coloring, Rampage is a research scientist who grows big and smashes things after she’s caught in an explosion of the kind of scientific doohickey thingie that’s always blowing up in the comics. A little more dramatic than getting a blood transfusion from her gamma-irradiated cousin, for sure, but… yeah, no one was surprised when Byrne started a new She-Hulk series the moment he made it back to Marvel. C