Making the Grade: Who’s Who Update ’88, Vol. 3

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So close! We’re so close to the end of the Who’s Who reviews! This week:  Who’s Who Update ’88, Volume 3, from Parliament of Trees to Trident. 

Not that I’m complaining about having to do these reviews, of course. But YOU try coming up with saying something funny and witty about 30-odd DC characters every week for 35 weeks straight (the rest of the Internet, in response: “Oh, you were going for funny and witty, were you? Huh.”)

The cover (again by the redoubtable Ty Templeton) is a bit different from other Who’s Who covers in that it doesn’t offer up any of the issue’s characters in the prime front-and-centre spot, with Starman, Sinestro and Quislet all kind of just hanging out there next to the index box. And that’s probably just as well, as this issue is a bit light on household names. Some interesting characters in the lot, for sure, but none (Soyuz? Psi-Phon? Scott freakin’ Fischer???) that can say, almost 30 years later, they’ve had any huge impact on DC’s market share.

whoswho-update88-sleez2That said, I sure do love the concept of everyone just hanging out in the branches of the trees that form the Parliament of Trees. And just why do you think Sleez is smiling like that, way down there at the bottom of the back cover?

[Peers in for closer look]

You know what, never mind. Just keep moving, kids, just keep moving, nothing to see here. 

Onward!  For the love of God, onward! 

Parliament of Trees
Deliberating body full of wooden, immobile beings who discourage outsiders from their realm, talk to each other in their own arcane language, and muck about in the affairs of those trying to get things done. Feel free to make the obvious joke about the legislative body of your choice. I myself have always seen my nation’s prime minister as a stump of some variety of particularly dense hardwood.  C

Per Degaton (Revised)
He’s still the same time-traveling/world-conquering wannabe he was the last time we saw him, with the added twist of being a closet robosexual (though what he was able to do with just Mekanique’s head I can’t even — you know, I don’t want to think about it). But that doesn’t interest me as much as the background art that re-creates a famous JSA cover from the old days, the one where Degaton, Brain Wave and other JSA baddies each take a knife to a map of the United States, literally carving out their territories. How would that work, exactly? Would the map be made of paper, in which case all that stabbing would rip it to shreds — or would the map be superimposed on a tabletop, in which case you’re ruining a perfectly fine piece of furniture? And why divide the country geographically? How is that fair to the super-villain who gets stuck with Wyoming, or Idaho, or any part of the Midwest? Which are all lovely places, don’t get me wrong — but not, let’s face it, where the action is. C

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Prankster (Revised)

The idea of a gangster with a hard-on for whoopee cushions giving Mama Kent’s boy a decent workout was always a tough sell, so kudos to Byrne & Co. for coming up with a fresh take on this classic Superman villain. Oswald Loomis was an old-school kid’s show host who prepared for his inevitable cancellation by staging elaborate pranks (like filling the city’s subway tunnels with soap flakes) to get his name back in the spotlight. Wait, a fading TV star motivated by a lust for fame into committing insane acts just to grab our attention? Well, now that’s just too far-fetched! B

Psi-Phon and Dreadnaught
Sigh. I’ll give Superman’s post-Crisis writers credit for trying to make existing villains like Prankster a little more relevant for ’80s audiences, but the brand-new villains they came up with were definitely hit-and-miss. For instance, Psi-Phon and Dreadnaught were an alien duo that came to Earth supposedly to test our superheroes’ abilities in advance of an alien invasion. Psi-Phon would use mental trickery to make a hero believe his powers were being drained — or “siphoned,” if you will — out of him, while Dreadnaught used the supposedly stolen powers to bust up shit. How were they defeated? Why, by Super-Battle Cliché #47, of course: giving the bad guy an overload of what he wants, banking on his inability to handle that much power all at once despite having no evidence that there’s any upper limit to how much energy or powers the villain can absorb. You know, just once I’d like to see that strategy backfire on the good guys: “Well, we gave the big energy monster a whole nuclear power station to eat, and now he’s twice as big and radioactive. My bad. Well, I’m out of ideas. Good luck, army guys!” D+

Punch and Jewelee (Revised)
No longer petty thieves who find a chest of alien gewgaws on the Coney Island shoreline, the new-and-improved P&J are petty thieves who stole their “hypno-jewels” and flying boots from a STAR laboratory. Call me crazy, but I think I preferred the old backstory, probably because I’m still wondering why government scientists would be spending valuable research grants weaponizing pixie boots. Their first Who’s Who entry was illustrated by Art Adams, and this one by Rob Liefeld… and that’s all I have to say about that. D+

Puppeteer
“Jordan Weir was a scientist who decided to use his talents for crime.” Of course! Because there’s no way a hypno-ray machine could possibly succeed in the private sector! The best part is how his machine that hypnotized people couldn’t make his subjects act against their moral principles, so he ended up using it to hypnotize criminals… who, let’s be clear, would also have been happy to do his criminal bidding if he had, you know, just asked them. D

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Queen Bee (Revised)
The old Queen Bee was a literal queen, getting into all kinds of wacky hi-jinks with her alien bee-man warriors; this Queen Bee is a normal Earth woman who takes control of a war-torn Middle Eastern country and turns it into “a veritable paradise more reflective of Monaco than Iran.” Gee, that’s… awful? I guess? I mean, sure, the whole “assassinating the former ruler” thing is morally iffy, but omelets and eggs, y’know? At any rate, it would be nice if the text on this page explained why the Justice League was interested in the internal politics of a formerly shit-hole country. I mean, what kind of world would it be if Americans thought they could just stick their noses in other countries’ affairs whenever they felt like it? C+

Quislet (Revised)
Not much new in this Legionnaire’s updated bio, just a mention of a quick trip back to his own dimension. I’m also wondering why the art shows floaty heads of other, non-Quislet Legionnaires and not images of Quislet in action, animating objects with his energy form and them making them disintegrate. Dammit, I wanna see Quislet go “poop!” (Wait, let me rephrase that…) A

Ratcatcher
There were a few attempts to broaden Batman’s rogues’ gallery in the ’80s; this was one of the lesser-known tries. And for good reason: a guy who lives in the sewers and trains animals to attack on his command is hardly the kind of archenemy worthy of the Dark Kn— oh, right. That. Plus, the whole “getting my revenge on the judges and cops who sent me to jail” — it’s been done, y’know? C-

Red Trinity
A trio of Soviet speedsters who defected to America and started up their own messenger service, “Kapitalist Kourier Service Inc.” And in case you didn’t get the whole “Kapitalist” thing, their chest symbols were dollar signs. Let’s hope they’ve since had cause to reconsider that business name. C

Sandman III (Revised)
“Formerly the Silver Scarab (see Silver Scarab), Hector Hall ended his superhero career when he fell victim to an evil entity that had lain latent inside him since birth due to an ancient Egyptian curse.” And that’s just the first sentence, y’all. Suffice to say, Neil Gaiman did DC a solid by putting this dream-dwelling dimwit out of his misery. D-

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Scott Fischer

Sir, I know Jean Grey. Jean Grey is a friend of mine. You, sir, are not Jean Grey. Pick a damn superhero name, already. Oh wait — you say he died shortly after this issue came out in one of those big crossover events DC used back in the day to periodically swab the decks of superfluous characters? Never mind. D

Secret Six II
This was a revival of the 1960s spy team that would have made for an interesting Mission: Impossible-style TV show. All six team members were blackmailed into going on missions by the mysterious Mockingbird, who was supposedly one of them. The old team members all had dark secrets that Mockingbird used to keep them in line; this team was composed of various experts in their fields who lost the use of their hands, ears, legs, etc., and were given devices by Mockingbird to compensate for their losses. It… didn’t work, frankly. For one thing, the devices were easy to spot — two of the team members wore metallic helmets that covered the top half of their heads — and it’s hard to imagine these people convincingly lying to loved ones about where the devices came from. Second, it’s a bit hard to believe that, say, the chance to run again would motivate an ex-Olympic runner to go on dangerous spy missions, especially since his bionic legs would disqualify him from any athletic event. (And why would you need to add “guy who runs fast” to your super-spy roster, anyway?) Again, it’s an intriguing concept, but one that was better handled in the original series. C-

Shade the Changing Man (Revised)
Nope, no Steve Ditko art here, though this Dennis Fujitake fellow is sure trying his darnedest to make it look that way. Pretty much a rehash of his previous Who’s Who entry, with an addendum describing his then-recent encounter with the Suicide Squad. Man, for a secret covert ops team they sure sign up anyone who waltzed through the front door, didn’t they? Warning: contains the phrases “Zero-Zone,” “Supreme Decider,” “President Olon of Metu” and “phase spasm.” C-

Shado
“Occupation: Avenger.” That’s more of a hobby than an occupation, don’t you think? Also: wrong publisher, Shado. Introduced in the very fine Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters mini-series, she’s the fetching daughter of a guy who worked for the Yakuza, using her mad archery skills to murder the evil Americans who killed her mother and drove her father to suicide. Naturally, this leads her to Seattle — home of the only other archer in the world who can out-archer her — and naturally he joins forces with her after their requisite showdown, because the power of Ollie’s boner cannot be denied. What I love here is the specificity about her weapons of choice: “She uses Japanese bamboo arrows 97.5 centimeters long, with eagle feathers for fletching, and a bow weighing 60 kilograms.” Any archers out there want to weigh in on this? Because 60 kilos is about 132 lbs., and her body weight is listed as 105 lbs. That’s some serious guns on her, if she’s hopping rooftops all night schlepping that much weight around. B+

Shrapnel
No explanation for where he came from or how he acquired his unusual appearance and abilities, no reasons given for why he targeted a specific guy for murder and ended up fighting the Doom Patrol to get to him — nope, none of that. Instead, we get a guy who looks like a walking, hulking pile of scrap metal and who can explode and launch his individual pieces — or “shrapnel,” if you will — into his victims. And you know what? That’s just fine with me. Not every villain has to come with three Hobbit prequels’ worth of backstory, especially when you have a great visual hook like that. Must be a bitch for artists to draw, though. B-

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Silver Banshee

Speaking of a great visual hook. Siobhan McDougal used ancient Irish magic to turn herself into a literal banshee, a skull-faced supernatural being whose scream can kill anyone within a certain range. Dangerous enough to give Superman the heebie-jeebies, she rampaged through Metropolis bookshops in search of a book that used to belong to her family, killing anyone who got in her way. You wouldn’t think of “antiquarian bookseller” as a job belonging on a list of dangerous occupations, but there you go. At least “being screamed to death by a hot banshee” will give them something to talk about at your funeral. B+

Silver Swan (Revised)
This Wonder Woman foe wasn’t truly evil, just physically and emotionally manipulated by an asshole businessman into doing his bidding. And it really is a tragic tale of a horribly deformed young woman altered against her will into becoming a winged beauty with the ability to create sonic waves with her voice — but I’m hung up on the pen pal thing. It’s right there, near the start of her personal history: “at age seventeen, her only friend throughout her entire life (was) her pen-pal Maxene Sterenbuch.” What an oddly specific thing to include in her bio, especially since there’s no other mention of this pen-pal correspondent anywhere on the page. Who is she? How did they connect? Where is she now? Did she turn up in a later Wonder Woman story? Quick, to the Wikipedia! B

Sinestro (Revised)
You all know who this guy is, but did you know he once almost destroyed the Green Lantern Corps through the power of boners? Back in the ’80s, when DC wanted to reboot Green Lantern’s book, it ran a story about Sinestro’s execution by the Corps for his many crimes, an act that directly led to the disintegration of the central power battery that powered all Green Lantern rings. Turns out the Guardians built a failsafe into the battery billion of years ago, after their Zamoran girlfriends took off and found members of Sinestro’s race to… ah, get sinister with. (Once you go purple, you don’t… man, nothing really rhymes with purple, does it?) The Guardians decided to “prevent any petty jealousy” from causing them to use their power against Sinestro’s race, so they fixed it so that the battery would fall apart if its power were ever used to kill one of them. Sure! And you can totally count on Guardians and their Lantern agents remembering that one teensy rule, even billions of years in the future! To give the writers some credit, they might have been trying to make some kind of social statement about capital punishment and its effect on societies that use it… but the mind-boggingly stupid reason for the battery’s near self-destruction was forgotten by later GL writers, for obvious reasons. Exhibit A: Sinestro is still alive and kicking in the faces of anyone who pisses him off. A-

Skyhook
Sorry, I can’t. I can’t make jokes about a creepy super-villain who hides out in a church, kidnaps runaway children and turns them into bat-hybrid creatures. It should have been this sick bastard’s neck broken at the end of Man of Steel, not Zod’s. Let’s please move on. GRADE NOT APPLICABLE

Sleez
Oy vey, on second thought let’s not move on to this guy. Did you know Superman and Big Barda once did a porno together? It’s true! Just ask her husband, Mister Miracle:

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The producer of this fine film (working title: “Rod of Steel”) was Sleez, a resident of Apokolips banished to Earth for being too skeevy even by Darkseid’s standards (and that’s saying a lot; you do not want to see that dude’s browser history). Any fun possibilities he might have offered were completely negated by his role in the re-constitution of the Newsboy Legion, about which there are not enough pornos in the world to make me forget how royally that idea sucked. D+

Soyuz
Blue Trinity, Red Trinity, Stalnoivolk, these kids — one thing you’re probably noticing about this series and the Who’s Who ’87 update is the more-than-average number of Russian characters being added to DC’s Rolodex. That’s no coincidence — the second half of the ’80s saw a lot of history happening in the real world, with words like glasnost and perestroika signaling big changes in the soon-to-be-former Soviet Union. Comic writers responded to the thaw in the Cold War by coming up with new Russian heroes, like this quintet of teenagers with super-powers. (How? Mutants. Next!) Nothing terribly noteworthy in their bios (though how these children hid their emerging powers and found each other without tipping off the authorities within a totalitarian state is a story I’d like to hear), but I think it’s funny how each member gets a paragraph describing their height, weight, and hair and eye color except for Vikhor, the youngest member. Maybe he forget to return the questionnaire? C

Speed McGee
“Dr. Jerry McGee was a genetic research scientist specializing in hyper-physiology, the development of super-athletes.” Wait a second… what the… how did… but he… HOW IS THAT EVEN REMOTELY LEGIT IN THE DC UNIVERSE? I mean, for crissakes, not even curlers at the Winter Olympics can pick up their medals without first peeing in a cup to make sure they’re clean. And we’re supposed to just accept the fact there are guys in the DCU getting research grants for shoving electrodes and steroids into actual athletes for the purpose of making them stronger and faster? As. Freakin’. If.  (I’m picking on the curlers because we all know that’s not a real sport. And I can say that because I’m Canadian.) D

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Stalnoivolk
Things in Stalnoivolk’s favour: he wears a business suit. Frankly, not enough superheroes and super-villains do their jobs while wearing a suit. And I say this as someone who has no real issue with anyone wearing tights for professional or recreational purposes; it’s just nice to see someone in the comics going about their business in a decent three-piece. Also, his name means “Iron Wolf” in Russian, and that sounds like the kind of guy that not even Later-Career Liam Neeson would mess with. Things not in Stalnoivolk’s favour: he’s a hardline Stalinist, unrepentant murderer and eager participant in the Soviet leader’s many purges back in the day. All of which, frankly, makes him a dick. Hence, C-

Strobe
Oh, for the love of… So not only is this dweeb a guy with a “prototype armored battle suit” who can’t think of anything more lucrative to do with it than rob armored trucks, but he purposely seeks out the Atom for a showdown because he’s pissed the local news stations led with stories about the Atom’s return instead of his big heist. First, what kind of crook wants to draw media attention to himself? Second, is he truly surprised that “heist by dude in light-flashing battle suit” doesn’t get front-page treatment in the DC universe? Geez, in Metropolis that kind of heist is so common the Daily Planet uses police reports about armored-suited bank robbers as filler between the Jumble puzzle and that day’s instalment of The Wizard of IdD+

Starman III
The first Starman to score his own title (but thankfully not the last), Will Payton is a superhero cut from the same cloth as most Silver Age heroes: regular guy out hiking in the desert gets struck by mysterious bolt from the sky and wakes up a month later with strange and unexplained powers. Cue the “with great power” speeches, punctuated by work-related deadlines imperiled by the latest super-villain to hit downtown Tucson. Nothing terribly offensive about the whole enterprise, it was just one that didn’t break any new ground. Still a shame what they did to him, though. C+

Suicide Squad II (Revised)
Pretty much a “previously on…” recap of the team’s missions to that date, complete with reports on super-villains killed in action (Slipknot, we hardly knew ye). So let me just reiterate what a bloody brilliant idea this was for a series, in that it gave the spotlight — and much-needed characterization — to some of the more fascinating folks in the DCU. It also makes perfect sense for the government to not let all that specialized training go to waste in a jail cell when it had plenty of job openings for morally dubious contractors. And let’s do mention the logistical stroke of genius in giving recurring villains ready-made reasons for being back out on the streets and re-menacing our favourite heroes well before their sentences were up. Really, there’s no downside here. A+

Tigress
Okay, I’m not saying it’s impossible, but — well, how likely is it that any little girl would grow up idolizing a big-game hunter, to the point of mastering archery and jiu-jitsu to be just like him? And the archery thing I can understand, but jiu-jitsu? Were there a lot of big-game hunters in the 1940s using martial arts on lions and rhinos? I’m all for more female representation in our superhero comics, but this gal’s thematic foundations are shakier than a Jell-O bake-off on the San Andreas Fault. C-

Toyman (Revised)
Toyman has gone from mirthful prankster to murderous pedophile over the years; at this point in time, he was a disgruntled British toymaker out for revenge against the corporate tycoons who drove him out of business. He traveled to Metropolis to continue his vendetta against Lex Luthor, but was thwarted by Superman — who failed to capture Toyman because he was kidnapped by Luthor and ordered to destroy Superman. Wait, but the only reason Toyman hates Superman is because Superman foiled his attempt to kill Luthor. Okay, I’m confused. B

Trident
Now, this is an idea I’m surprised more super-villain types don’t use. A costumed foe of the Teen Titans with a tricked-out trident for a weapon, Trident was actually three separate people who allowed others to believe there was only ever one super-villain named Trident, for maximum messing-with-their-heads satisfaction. But why stop at three? I’m thinking major franchising opportunities, with a Trident in every city paying for the right to wear the costume and weaponry. Or at least a sponsorship deal with the Trident gum people. This is probably why it’s a good thing I never joined the forces of evil. B-

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