Category Archives: Making the Grade: Who’s Who

Making the Grade: Who’s Who Update ’88, Vol. 4

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Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I’m free at last! Free of having to write Who’s Who reviews, that is. This week: Who’s Who Update ’88, Volume 3, from Ultra-Humanite to Zuggernaut, with a special section on Supporting Characters (Abby Cable to Wade Eiling).

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s been fun revisiting my old Who’s Who comics and coming up with opinions about hundreds of characters, many of them actually interesting.

But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit glad to see this final issue of DC’s ’88 Update. DC put out a few more Who’s Who mini-series in the late ’80s — I can think of one for the Legion of Super-Heroes and another for its Star Trek books — and then returned in 1990 with an oversized Who’s Who series that was hole-punched for maximum binder excitement. But I think this is a good place to take a break from the weekly zaniness of putting these posts together, and get back to the random lists. I might give the Marvel Handbook issues the same treatment in the future; we’ll see. 

whoswho-update88-terrylongIf you’ve been coming back every week to enjoy a weekly dose of DC nostalgia, then thanks for dropping by. And to show you my appreciation, here’s an image cropped from the cover above that shows Terry Long being That Guy at Pa Kent’s barbecue, obliviously annoying his fellow party-goers while wearing a sweater paired with a polka-dot banana hammock. You’re welcome.  

(Man, last issue it was Sleez flashing a bunch of young heroes, now Ty Templeton is trying to sneak this into his cover illustration. It’s like the man wants us to gouge out our eyes with a spoon.)  

Onward!

Ultra-Humanite (Revised)
Not sure why he merited a “revised” entry — only thing about him that really changed post-Crisis was the fact he never fought Superman back during Dubya-Dubya-Two. Oh, and he also added a T. Rex to the list of bodies his brain hopped in and out of, but I won’t complain. If loving mad scientists who swap their bodies with dinosaurs, Hollywood starlets and mutated albino gorillas is wrong, then I don’t want to be right. B+

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Ventriloquist

Probably the best Batman villain introduced in the past 30 years — yes, better than Bane or Hush. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against villains that go the anti-Batman route, but the best Batman villains — for me, anyway — are the ones who mix their crazy with a little bit of pathos, the ones who make you feel a little sympathetic for them even as they’re setting blowtorches to orphanages. Ventriloquist (name unrevealed at the time, but we’d later know him as Arnold Wesker) was the scion of a mob family who was so horrified by the violence he saw that he retreated into a timid shell, only able to express his dark impulses through his dummy, “Scarface.” Cut to funny shots of henchmen talking directly to the dummy, never really sure if it was the boss or Wesker. And let’s be honest, aren’t those dummies all kinds of creepy even without the homicidal tendencies? A

Wanderers (Revised)
The Silver Age Wanderers sucked, but they were so bland in their suckiness it wasn’t really worth the effort to be annoyed by them. They showed up, met the Legion of Super-Heroes, pledged eternal friendship, ooh-blah-dee, life went on. But then someone at DC — perhaps someone watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and thinking the Legion franchise should tap some of that sci-fi nerd market — brought them back for a mini-series, updating them for the totally tubular (and apparently angsty) ’80s. How did it go? Well…

Aviax: the artist formerly known as Orithno, he still had the power to turn into birds, with his angst level amped up to 11 by his new weakness: he had “extremely porous and fragile bones” like that of a bird. Yes, this makes him sound doubly lame by any standard, but let me ask you this: did Chameleon Boy ever fuck a bird to save an entire species? Wanderers #12, people. You can’t unsee it once you’ve seen it. D-

Celebrand: the Wanderers’ former leader and the luckiest of the lot, in that he was killed off before this mini-series even started. D

Dartalon: formerly known as Dartalg, the guy who once thought a blowgun was the perfect weapon against 30th-century ordnance is now a human porcupine, with the bonus power of constantly super-whining about his monstrous new look. Let’s be honest, Darty, you weren’t getting much tail with the blowgun shtick, either. D

Elvar: “Great speed and ability,” plus the power to use his force of will to energize his flaming sword. Now more Elvish in appearance in an obvious bid to nail some of Orlando Bloom’s less discerning groupies. Didn’t work. D+

Psyche: Same emotion-manipulating powers as before, only now she’s kind of crazy. Women, amirite, fellas? D

Quantum Queen: Easily the most powerful team member with all kinds of light-generating powers at her command, but who cares about any of that? Slutty up that costume, boys! D

Re-Animage: He can heal from any wound and is immune from death itself thanks to “microscopic parasites” inside his body, but does that make any sense? Aren’t parasites by definition organisms that destroy their host body? And how can he only transfer his resurrecting powers to recently deceased bodies for a short period of time? One thing we can all agree on: “Re-Animage” is a very stupid name. D-

Weaver
Some ancient Atlantean dipshit sorcerer who did some time in the ’80s as Power Girl’s archenemy. And how ironic is it that a guy who shares his name with people who make fabric would have a bug up his ass about a super-heroine who always arrives half-dressed for action? C-

Weird
Yeah, that about sums it up. There was an ad promoting his mini-series that read: “Who is… What is… THE WEIRD?” I’ve re-read this page I don’t know how many times and I still don’t have a clue. Blowed up real good, though. D+

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Wildebeest

I have a vague recollection of the mystery of the Wildebeest’s true identity being a huge plot point in the Teen Titans books around this time, the same way Stan and Steve teased readers about the Green Goblin’s identity back in early Spider-Man comics. This should give you some idea of how far the Titans had fallen from their “Judas Contract” days. Because when you get right down to it — when you get past the Wildebeest Society, the cyber-wildebeests and the existence of something actually called Baby Wildebeest — it’s just a guy in a cow suit. And a stupid-looking one at that. D

Wildfire (Revised)
BOO! BOO! BOO! First, there’s nothing new in his entry; it’s just an excuse to show off his then-recent new look. And talk about missing the point of the character. He’s a guy who was turned into a ball of energy via a freak accident, with only a special containment suit (complete with featureless glass visor) to give him form. The drama generated by the tension between his non-corporeal form and his desire to be human again was a big part of his characterization. But for whatever reason, someone redesigned him to look like a futuristic Firestorm, with eyes and nose and flaming head and everything. Maybe he’s happier this way, but I didn’t plunk down my buck-seventy-five for happy. Pathos up that puppy, Giffen! C

Wotan (Revised)
So, what’s Wotan been up to since the whole Crisis thing happened? Oh, nothing special. A little would-be world conquering here, a little assassination of UN delegates there, topped off with a scheme to take over Zatanna’s body so his essence can return to this dimension and start causing trouble again, only this time in a fetching pair of fishnets. You know, the usual. C-

Zatanna (Revised)
Speaking of Ol’ Fishnet-Legs. She’s actually wearing pants in this picture, along with other more traditional pieces of a stage magician’s outfit. It’s not a look that lasted long, let’s put it that way. There’s also some updated info in her bio about how Dr. Mist tried to get jiggy with her and yeah, thanks, DC for not filling us in on anything interesting that Zatanna might have been up to at the time. C

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Zuggernaut
Fun fact: Alien came out in 1979, and its hugely popular sequel hit the movie theatres in 1986, shortly before this armored, phallus-headed, takes-over-human-bodies creature showed up in the pages of Firestorm. Coincidence? Must be. “It also uses its long claws as weapons” — which is about all they’re good for. I mean, seriously, look at the length of those things. How does he have any use of his hands with those things on them? He’s probably the only seven-foot-tall parasitic alien who can be stopped by a pickle jar. C-

Abby Cable
Having run out of new and revised superhumans to throw in the series, DC turned the spotlight on the heroes’ supporting characters. First up: the Swamp Thing’s main squeeze, Abigail Arcane Cable Terwilliger Hutz McClure Holland. She had a run of bad luck with the men in her lives, but at this point she was happily married (in spirit, if not legally) to the Swamp Thing and carrying their first child. The part that kills me is how, when her relationship with Swampy became public knowledge, “morals charges were brought against her.” I’d love to meet the lawyer who was tasked with finding the Louisiana statute that made kumquat-humping illegal in that state. B

Alfred Pennyworth
Bruce Wayne’s butler, cook, medic, aide-de-camp, and dispenser of dry British wit when needed, Alfred Pennyworth is the quintessential gentleman’s gentleman, always ready to offer a cup of tea and/or fill in any plot hole as needed with his repertoire of convenient skills. For some bizarre reason, his bio mentions his death and brief career as the Outsider, even though (as far as a I know) he never transformed into that form in the new post-Crisis reality. And, really, why would he? He doesn’t need psionic powers. He’s Alfred. A+

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Amanda Waller
Easily one of the best comic characters to come out of the ’80s and yes, I’m still mad at DC for turning her into a skinny-ass supermodel in that New 52 nonsense. Her people call her “the Wall” for a reason, gentlemen. Also not cool? The background art on this page that makes her look like an angry Hobbit next to a towering Captain Boomerang, even though (and God help me for researching this to settle the matter) they are both listed as 5’9″. Someone is lucky she’s not a real person, because that someone’s ass would most certainly be grass if she were. A

Ed and Felicity Raymond
I have bad news for fans of that Arrow show: the original Felicity Smoak wasn’t an adorkable blonde with mad hacker skills and the hots for Ollie. Nope, she was an older, raven-haired software company owner who once sued Firestorm for ruining her business (something about creating giant magnets near her hardware and accidentally wiping them clean). Firestorm responded by turning her clothes into soap suds. And then, because this is comics, she later met and married Firestorm’s dad. Which means Ronnie Raymond once saw his future stepmother naked! Oh, and his grandfather was a costumed super-spy and his father was on the run from a mobster he once testified against. Sigh. Doesn’t any superhero come from a normal family? B-

Etta Candy
Originally a sugar-sucking comic-relief sidekick for Wonder Woman back in the allegedly good old days (Etta Candy, get it?), she got a major upgrade in Diana’s 1987 series, gaining a military title, realistic body proportions, her dignity, the works. She was also romantically linked to Steve Trevor, tidying up that second bit of awkwardness from the older Wonder Woman books. Well done, Etta. B

Harvey Bullock
Harvey Bullock the slovenly Gotham cop is great. Harvey Bullock the middle manager in a secret government counter-terrorist agency? Yeah, I’m having trouble seeing that. But that’s exactly what someone did, by putting him directly under Amanda Waller in the super-secret Checkmate organization. Man, to be a fly on the wall during that job interview. B

Jenet Klyburn
I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but it seems a little too coincidental that Jenet Klyburn — the young, smart, decidedly female chief scientist of STAR Labs — would make her first appearance in 1978, not long after Jenette Khan — a young, smart, decidedly female publisher type — showed up to take the reins at DC. Think I’m crazy? Well, check this out:

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This is from the mock Daily Planet newspaper that DC published in 1988 to tie in with its big Invasion! crossover; the gag is that mugshots of DC staffers were paired with the names of fictional characters within the DC universe to offer their person-on-the-street reactions to the alien invasion. Top photo? Kahn. Name? Klyburn. Case. Closed. B

Jim Corrigan
This is the murdered police officer whose spirit was ordered by “the Voice” to go back to Earth and fight evil as the Spectre. You know, if you’re going to take direction from a singing competition show, you should at least listen to what American Idol has to say (weak rimshot, cough from back of the club). It’s hard to keep track; first the Spectre is Corrigan’s spirit, then the Spectre is just subletting Corrigan’s body in between missions, then there’s another wrinkle where they can’t both exist at the same time so Corrigan disappears when the Spectre goes into action… it’s all a bit confusing, and just a bit  too soap opera-ish for my liking. C+

Jimmy Olsen
Jimmy, it’s 1988. Start dressing like a damn normal person. Red bow tie and green checkered sports coat? Come on, you ginger dweeb, everyone knows this is what the totally rad dudes were wearing in ’88:

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Also? We’re told that “Sarah Olsen was still in her teens when she gave birth to Jimmy and is still quite youthful despite her prematurely gray hair.” Who’s Who: the only source you need when nothing but comic-book MILFs will do. C-

Julia Kapetalis
She’s the Boston archaeology professor who taught Wonder Woman the ways of “Man’s World” when our heroine showed up on her doorstep, and good on her for taking in Diana and giving her a home. I’m not entirely sure what I’d do if a six-foot woman speaking ancient Greek and wearing a metal bustier with star-spangled Spanx showed up at my door, though I’m sure I’d have some explaining to do to my wife. It’s been many years since I’ve read those early Pérez Wonder Woman stories, and I still remember how Julia referred to that rock singer her teenage daughter was listening to as “Jon Bovie.” Yes, I’m lame. B

Kim Liang
This bright, bubbly secretary at an insurance company one day found herself “mystically summoned” by Madame Xanadu to serve as the “keeper” of Jim Corrigan’s mortal shell whenever the Spectre was off on missions. The two of them (Kim and Jim, not Kim and Spectre) later fell in love, but that doesn’t diminish the seriously creepy aspect of how they first came together. Quoth the DC Wikia: “Much later it was revealed that Kim Liang was actually an alternate form of Madame Xanadu she magically created as part of an elaborate plan to seduce the Spectre and steal his powers.” Wow, that’s… really mean, lady. B-

Lana Lang
First, kudos to the artist for giving Ms. Lang the hot-pants-and-sweater-from-Flashdance look. I heartily approve. Less worthy of my approval is the decision to re-introduce Lana in the post-Crisis universe as… an unwitting spy for evil space robots? Yes, that’s right — in one of the dumber storylines that came out of that decade, the Manhunters (“No man escapes,” etc.) were aware of Superman’s arrival on Earth, and so they injected baby Lana with a mind-control device that would make her spy on young Clark and give regular reports to the Manhunters (all without her conscious knowledge of doing so). In fact, all the babies born in Smallville after little Kal-El’s arrival were turned into mobile spycams for the Manhunters, thanks to one of their undercover agents acting as the town’s friendly doctor. So apparently the evil robot cultists had the resources to do all of this just to keep an eye on one alien baby, and yet they somehow never had the idea to — I don’t know — snatch baby Clark and raise him to follow their orders. Because that wouldn’t be part of the plan! You know, the plan to… um… C+

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Ma and Pa Kent
Not to get all federal case about it, but why do these two get identified by their relationship to Superman while the other supporting characters are filed under their full names? It’s not “Mom and Pop Raymond” or “Daddy and Mommy West,” so why aren’t these two called Jonathan and Martha Kent? And don’t pull that American Gothic crap, either: these are fully formed people with their own dreams and hopes, y’all, not just cardboard cut-outs that dispense pies and advice whenever Clark flies into town (and always with a bag of laundry, because “no one makes my shirts smell fresh like you can, Ma…. oooh, pie!”). Why, did you know Jonathan is a ham radio enthusiast? Or that Martha is YouTube’s seventh-most active commenter? Or that both of them are banned from Reno for life over a small misunderstanding involving a matador and a boa constrictor? What I’m saying is: still waters, man. Still waters. Ma: A-, Pa: C- (he knows why)

Maxwell Lord
Now, this guy is a good example of why it’s so hard for me to enjoy most DC comics from the past 10 years or so. He started out as a rascally tycoon type, a kind of riff on Donald Trump who re-formed the Justice League for not entirely altruistic reasons. But then someone decided that wasn’t enough, so they gave him super-persuasion powers (always handy in a boardroom setting). And then someone else decided he was an evil mastermind with a secret agenda against all superheroes. And then he shot Blue Beetle in the head before Wonder Woman snapped his neck on live television. Remember when our heroes went on double dates and threw Christmas parties in their satellite headquarters? I miss those days. C-

Oberon 
I’ve nothing bad to say about Oberon. Frankly, I’m surprised more superheroes don’t hire business managers to take care of the more mundane matters, like scheduling events or maintaining their affairs while they’re off-planet (you try telling the gas people you didn’t pay the bill last month because you were fighting Darkseid’s minions). And he was the perfect straight man in the ongoing comedy routine that was the Giffen/DeMatteis era of the Justice League, dispensing just the right amount of disbelief and “I’m getting too old for this shit” attitude that kept the whole thing from flying off the rails. As you were, sir. A-

Perry White
Not that Lois and Clark’s boss needs any introduction, the 1980s found the Daily Planet’s editor getting an honest-to-god backstory that didn’t begin and end with him screaming about the ghosts of great Caesars. Turns out he was a hotshot foreign correspondent who came home to find Luthor sleeping with his wife (after Luthor convinced her that White was dead) and was planning to sell the Planet. Luthor got the better of him by winning his wife back and having a rich buddy buy the paper and name him managing editor. Best part of this entry? A page devoted to one of the most famous fictional editors of all time has a typo: “As he became more aware of Luthor’s immor[t]ality, White came to hate him.” Oh, irony. You do enjoy your work. B+

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Rudolph and Mary West 

AKA Wally West’s mom and dad. You can tell he’s someone’s dad by the pipe, fedora and push-broom mustache. The text says Rudolph was approached by the Manhunters shortly after Wally gained his super-speed powers and agreed to act as their spy. I’m really curious to know how they persuaded him to go against his own son like that. Seriously, what’s the going rate for committing an act of parental betrayal like that? Just curious in case a bunch of outer-space robot cultists ever ask me for the dirt on my own kid’s report cards and browser history. C-

Steve Trevor
His middle name is “Rockwell,” because of course it is. Like Etta Candy, his character got a much-needed upgrade in the recently relaunched Wonder Woman series; he only got embroiled in Wonder Woman’s story because his Air Force superior was a minion of Ares trying to destroy Paradise Island at his evil master’s command. I think we’ve all worked for people like that at some point in our lives. B

Terry Long 
There’s a lot of hate out there for Terry, and I don’t mean the usual “yeah, he sucks” kind of hate. I mean that special kind of hate usually reserved for genocidal dictators, unrepentant racists, or girlfriends who break up beloved rock bands. On the surface, it’s easy to see why: he was an Afro-sprouting, open-collared college professor who married a woman 10 years his junior (19 to his 29) — not a student of his, to be sure, but still on the skeevy side considering his position. On top of that, the fact his girlfriend/wife could literally karate-chop him in half if she wanted to didn’t stop him from openly hitting on Wonder Girl’s female teammates (and probably a few of the male ones, too). And let’s face it, any guy who chases after a young woman who spent her entire childhood on an island full of women — and is likely naive to the ways of men — is going to have a few controlling issues. I don’t get the feeling the writers of the Teen Titans book liked him very much, either; as this entry states, he lost his professor gig over a serious case of writer’s block and ended up working in a bookstore. No doubt that was A-OK by him because he still got to live in a T-shaped tower with an orange-tinted Pam Anderson lookalike walking around in her metal bikini. Awwww yeah…. D

Thomas Kalmaku
“During the course of the adventure, Thomas recognized the similarity of Green Lantern’s and Hal Jordan’s fighting styles and discovered Jordan’s double identity.” Right, because there’s no other way he could possibly have guessed that, what with Jordan’s domino mask forming the perfect disguise. An Inuit mechanic, Thomas suffered racism early in his comic book career by getting called “Pieface” (as in Eskimo Pie) by Jordan. Perhaps by way of apology, DC gave him a role in that Ryan Reynolds film. Didn’t work. B-

Wade Eiling
Sometimes you just have to admire the polished set of brass balls that some guys swing. Wade Eiling was part of the court-martial that sentenced Capt. Nathaniel Adam for treason, as well as the military head of a top secret “Captain Atom” project. He offered Adam a chance to avoid execution by volunteering for the project; when Adam seemingly perished in the experiment, Eiling went ahead and married Adam’s widow and adopted his children. And then, when Adam unexpectedly reappeared 20 years later (the force of the explosion having sent him hurtling through time), Eiling ordered Adam not to reveal his identity to his now-grown children and forced him to act as a government superhero under Eiling’s hawk-eyed supervision. And when Eiling isn’t ordering Adam around, he’s sabotaging Adam’s attempts to make a life for himself outside the military, because he is an unrepentant control-freak dick. You don’t have to like the man to recognize we could use a few more guys like him in the comics. B+