Friday, June 3, 2016

AMAZING HEROES: Who's...WHO?! Lesser-known characters in the DC Comics Universe

Even before the twenty years I wrote about pop music for Goldmine magazine, I wrote about comic books for various magazines, beginning with Amazing Heroes in 1984.  My association with Amazing Heroes ended badly, though I'm pretty sure no one at Fantagraphics knew much about my discontent (nor even really knew who I was to begin with).  But I was, briefly, a happy Amazing Heroes freelancer, and Fantagraphics was the very first outfit to give me actual money for something I wrote.  This was one of my favorite Amazing Heroes pieces, and probably (I think) the last of my work that Fantagraphics ever published.  Originally published in Amazing Heroes # 109, January 1987, and inspired by a DC Comics mini-series cataloging its characters A-Z.  


Who's Who:  The Definitive Directory Of The DC Universe has been an admirable effort, hasn't it?  Looking at any random issue, one can easily appreciate the great amount of time and brain-rotting research that has gone into this project.  Add in the often-nifty artwork by Dave Stevens, Jaime Hernandez, Steve Rude, Kirby, Byrne, Perez, et al., and you have a slick package that lives up to its designation as a "definitive directory."

But, inevitably, Who's Who doesn't give the whole story.  After all, DC's been in the comics biz for over 50 years, and it would be impossible to squeeze a comprehensive listing of DC characters into a mere 26 issues.  With the addition of many characters acquired from Quality, Fawcett, and Charlton Comics, DC has got just a whole bunch of characters too obscure--some might say trivial--to be included in Who's Who.

Well, we trivial minds at Amazing Heroes just love to dwell on the inconsequential.  In that spirit, we're nonplussed to present this brief rundown of some of DC's also-rans.  Hey, who was that masked man anyway?


Karl Keller was a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain.  While working in a mine as slave labor, Keller discovered a rocketship containing explosive Kryptonian chemicals.  These chemicals gave Keller super-powers, enabling him to escape the prison camp and seek revenge on the free world that allowed him to be imprisoned.  As The Annihilator, Keller was too powerful even for Superman.  The chemicals began to take a toll on Keller's health, and he reformed in time to save his adopted son from a life of crime.  The whole sordid story unfolded in Action Comics # 355-357.

The Bouncer was a criminal whose "elastalloy" costume enabled him to bounce.  Real high.  This fearsome super-power helped The Bouncer to terrorize Gotham City for a while, but Batman and Robin put him out of commission in a mere nine pages, leaving room for a five-page imaginary story in Detective Comics # 347.  The Bouncer returned in Batman # 336, was dispatched even more quickly this time around.


Former police scientist Don Powers was secretly Crusader, a super-hero whose methods were deemed too violent for him to join the Justice League (right, the same group that Batman's in).  Crusader's crime-fighting methods nearly destroyed Detroit, as a satellite he'd designed to eliminate "the criminals' biggest ally--darkness" also stimulated algae growth to colossal proportions, which threatened to engulf the city.  Aquaman destroyed the satellite; Crusader, who had poor eyesight, tripped over some aerial wires while on patrol and fell to his death, all in Aquaman # 56.


Dyno-Man was the resident super-hero of the planet Sorrta, and a friend of Superman.  In Superman # 206, Superman was framed for Dyno-Man's apparent murder, but the real Dyno-Man emerged in time to save Superman's life and defeat the would-be killers.  Whatta guy!



Years before the concept of She-Hulk, Element Girl was a distaff version of Metamorpho, the Element Man.  Unlike Metamorpho, Element Girl (alias Urania Blackwell) voluntarily became an elemental freak in order to smash the crime cartel Cyclops in Metamorpho # 10.  Element Girl quickly became Metamorpho's crimefighting partner, and Sapphire Stagg's rival for the Element Man's affection, though she only appeared for a few more issues in the '60s.


Frand Mattar was a super-criminal from the 38th century who sent a vibrational bomb to Central City, circa 1966.  The vibrations of The Flash's super-speed powers might have set off the bomb regardless of whether or not Frand Mattar detonated the weapon.  Undaunted, The Flash and Kid Flash traveled into the future to defeat Frand Mattar and render the bomb harmless in Flash # 159.


The villain who brings bad things to life was originally the leader of a squadron of kamikazes in World War II.  General Electric miraculously survived his plane's crash, but his head was severely damaged and subsequently rebuilt through the latest in electronic technology.  General Electric wound up with a domed skull that resembled nothing so much as Jack Kirby's version of the bottle city of Kandor.  General Electric tried to lead a resurgence of the Axis Powers to world domination, but was defeated by The Sandman in Sandman # 1.  General Electric popped up years later in the pages of Wonder Woman, where he was apparntly killed.


What can you say about a guy who was the arch-enemy of (giggle) B'wana Beast?  Not much, really, except that He Who Never Dies was Hamid Ali, an allegedly immortal villain with whom Africa's Zambesi tribe had battled for years, and that B'wana Beast put a crimp in his style in Showcase # 66-67.  What else can you say?  I mean, this guy fought B'wana Beast...and lost!

Icarus was sort of the super-hero that never was.  Eddie Hamilton was a Kansas farmboy with the ability to change his body's shape and grow wings.  With Hawkman as his inspiration, Eddie trained in secret for the day when he could realize his life's ambition:  to become a super-hero.  Sadly, this ambition would never be fulfilled, as evil Thanagarians murdered Icarus in The Shadow War Of Hawkman # 2.


Dressed in white cape and cowl, Joshua was DC's answer to Moon Knight before there was a Moon Knight.  This ex-Marine super-hero enlisted the aid of The Teen Titans in saving his younger brother from a life of crime in Teen Titans # 20.  Joshua was originally supposed to be a black hero called Jericho, but DC was reportedly nervous that a black hero might alienate their Southern distributors in the late '60s, and chickened out accordingly.  Wimps.


Krellick was partner to Professor Clive Arno on the archeological dig that gave Arno the super-powers of Captain Action.  While Captain Action gained his powers from the benevolent gods of mythology, Krellick gained power from the god of evil.  Krellick battled Captain Action and Action Boy in Captain Action # 1-2.  Although Captain Action--like Isis, Star Trek, Bomba the Jungle Boy, and Jerry Lewis--was a licensed property for which DC does not own the copyright, Krellick was a DC original and could revived any time DC wants to bring him back.

What can you say about a villain who fought Brother Power the Geek?  What can you--oh, never mind.  Lord Sliderule was a capitalist nightmare, an industrial genius who would save failing industries in return for being granted absolute control over the business.  He crossed paths with Brother Power in Brother Power The Geek # 2.  (And Brother Power beat him!  Really! 


Dorky name aside, Mind-Grabber Kid was...well, he was a pretty dorky character, too.  Teen-aged Lucian Crawley had the power of mind over matter, which he put to use as a fledgling super-hero.  However, Mind-Grabber Kid was jealous of the more experienced (and highly-regarded) Justice League, and he convinced a group of well-intentioned aliens that the JLA was an evil group that must be defeated.  The Kid repented in time to save the JLA, but he's never heard from again after his debut in Justice League Of America # 70.  Serves 'im right, the rotten kid....



Neverwas!  The Justice League fought this super-amoeba in JLA # 68.  (And John Byrne thought Beppo the Super-Monkey was too much!)


The James Bond movies inspired a spy craze in the mid-'60s, and there were lots of evil spy groups running around in the comics, threatening the free world with treachery and oppressive acronyms.  O.G.R.E.--the Organization for General Revenge and Enslavement--was the resident bad-spy group in Aquaman, popping up in several issues.  They were finally smashed, not by Aquaman, but by government agents in Aquaman # 53.



Absolutely no relation to Superman's old foe, The Prankster was a daffy super-hero operating in an oppressive world of the future.  Inspired by Harlan Ellison's short story "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said The Ticktockman," this Denny O'Neil/Jim Aparo strip appeared only once, in the final issue of Charlton's Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt (# 60).  The Prankster's heroic pranks on the dictators of Ultrapolis ended in a cliffhanger, with The Prankster's brains scant seconds away from being splattered by a secret policeman's gun.  The Prankster is in a class apart from most of the trivial characters dealt with in this article, and he deserves another appearance.  How about it people?



Marcia Monroe was a spoiled rich girl who somehow won Batman's heart and became his fiance. That wasn't enough for her, though, as she broke off the engagement and turned to crime.  As Queen Bee, she teamed up with Eclipso to frame Batman for robbery and gain control of Gotham City's underworld.  Batman escaped from prison and squashed this scheme, albeit with Queen Bee's help--her love for him overcame her criminal ambitions.  She still managed to escape, though, while Eclipso returned to his host body, all in The Brave And The Bold # 64.



The Ranger was Australia's answer to The Batman.  In Detective Comics # 215, The Ranger joined several other "Batmen"--South America's Gaucho, England's Knight and Squire, Italy's Legionary, and France's Musketeer--on a trip to Gotham City to meet Batman.  The Ranger was the only one of these "Batmen of all nations" not to join the Club of Heroes (which also included Superman and Batman) in World's Finest Comics # 89, making him, I guess, the forgotten Forgotten Hero.

The Squadron Supreme, an alternate-world version of the JLA, starred in their own maxi-series, which illustrated...what's that?

They weren't from DC?  They were from Marvel?



Swashbuckler was Houston's resident super-hero, alias Michael Carter.  The nephew of the original Golden Age hero The Vigilante, Swashbuckler teamed with The Batman against The Riddler in Detective Comics # 493.  (Are you sure that Squadron Supreme was by Marvel?)



Thunderbolt was another one of the many comic-book crime cartels, this one led by a hooded villain named Mr. Thunder.  Thunderbolt was the first threat faced by Robby Reed, the boy who dialed "H" for Hero.  It took Robby two issues (House Of Mystery # 156-157) and six heroic identities--Giantboy, Cometeer, The Mole, The Human Bullet, Super-Charge, and Radar-Sonar Man--but he eventually defeated Mr. Thunder and smashed Thunderbolt's operations.  Although Mr. Thunder may have never lived down being humbled by a kid whose favorite expression was "Sockamagee!," at least he never lost to one of Reed's sillier incarnations, like King Kandy and his Licorice Lariat.  Or to B'wana Beast, for that matter.


The Untouchable Aliens were a group of invaders from another dimension who tried to destroy Earth's cities.  The Untouchables weren't exactly evil, however, as they were trying to save their own world, which was merging with Earth as the barrier between the two dimensions crumbled. Green Lantern and the rest of the Justice League succeeded in separating the dimensions, which worked out to everyone's benefit.  The moral of this story in JLA # 15 was that, with understanding, you can make friends with your enemies.  Or, as the JLA's teen mascot Snapper Carr put it, "Beam in to get the caper!  Listen to the little men, and all the farouts will be in orbit!"  Wish I'd said that,


Villo was "the world's worst, vilest villain," who bragged that "nobody could possibly be as bad as I am!," and "...I am no ordinary villain--and no mere remarkable villain!  I am the living end, friend--the absolute limit!  I am Villo--the most evil man the world has ever known!" Nyaa-ha-haa! Although he would have seemed like the ideal adversary for [insert your own B'wana Beast joke here], Villo actually gave The Challengers Of The Unknown quite a bit of trouble, beginning in Challengers Of The Unknown # 50.


Wonder Tot was, well, Wonder Woman as a teeny tot.  She spoke in DC's own patented style of baby talk--e.g., "Wonder Tot stop bad bug, Mommy Queen!"--and appeared in lots of adventures during the early '60s. Usually, Wonder Tot appeared in what were called "Impossible Tales," teaming Wonder Tot with Wonder Girl and Wonder Woman, all of whom were the same person at different ages.  In effect, Wonder Woman was teaming up with herself (which is illegal in 12 states).  Wonder Tot was eventually written out of Wonder Woman continuity for some obscure reason.


X-Plam?  Gesundheit.  X-Plam was a man from the year 2360 who journeyed 400 years into the past to marry Lois Lane.  Tired of waiting for the ever-evasive Superman to pop the question, Lois accepted X-Plam's proposal and the two were married.  Unfortunately, the people of X-Plam's time have mutated into dat ol' little green Martian look, complete with little green antennae.  X-Plam had gained a human appearance in 1960, but both X-Plam and Lois took on the Martian look upon arriving in 2360.  Unwilling to allow the vain Miss Lane to live unhappily, X-Plam sacrificed his life to return Lois to her own time and old appearance.  She ran right back into Superman's arms in Superman # 136.



This Yellowjacket was no relation to Hank Pym whatsoever.  He was related to Merryman of The Inferior Five, who was his grandson.  All of Merryman's ancestors were super-heroes, and Yellowjacket was an elderly parody of The Green Hornet, accompanied by his chauffeur, Plato, in the junky jalopy called The Gold Bug.  Yellowjacket teamed up with The Inferior Five to defeat the evil agents of H.U.R.R.I.C.A.N.E.--Heinous, Unscrupulous Rats and Rogues Initiating Criminal Anarchy and Nefarious Evil--in Inferior Five # 1.



Zonga was really Professor Ira Gloot,who changed himself into an intelligent ape in Marvel Family # 85.  Zonga intended to change everyone on Earth into subservient simians, but he was stopped by Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., and Mary Marvel.  The Marvel Family restored Zonga's millions of victims to normal, scant seconds before they all would have launched into an impromptu chorus. I can just hear everyone all over the world singing, "Here we come, walking down the street, get the funniest looks from everyone we meet, hey-hey...."  Sure, I'll shut up now.

This listing,of course, doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.  By itself, The Brave And The Bold gave us such varied no-goodniks as The Molder, Multi-Face, Hellgrammite, Galg the Destroyer, Mr. Twister, and at least two different guys called The Collector.  Elsewhere, there were worthies like Hyperman (a Superman counterpart who dies tragically), Mr. V (arch-foe of The Martian Manhunter), Master Man (Kid Eternity's opposite number), The Sentinels (a Charlton super-group), and "Big Monte" McGraw (a crook who tried to seduce Jimmy Olsen when the cub reporter went undercover in drag).  Anyone out there remember Captain IncredibleCaptain InvincibleMiss ArrowetteThe EraserQuispDr. Spider?  How about a show of hand's for Superboy's late buddy, Supremo?

These are some of DC's throwaway characters, and you probably won't ever see any of them returning to comics in the future.  Some of them are best forgotten, maybe, though some are as valid as other, more well-known characters.  Good characters or bad characters aside, part of the fun of collecting comics over an extended period of time is sifting through the forgotten and the trivial; you never know when you might find something of worth.

And B'wana Beast is always good for a couple of laughs.

2016 POSTSCRIPT:  Off the top of my head, I know that Element Girl, Hellgrammite, Mr. Twister, The Batmen Of All Nations, and Miss Arrowette have all appeared in DC comics published since this 1987 article; I think someone even dusted off good ol' Mind-Grabber Kid.  And, believe it or not, B'wana Beast even made some guest appearances on DC superhero TV cartoons.     

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