Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It Came From Beside The Bed

(a feature dedicated to the stack of comics, old and new, languishing beside my bed)

Who's Who #2

If it weren't for Who's Who, I probably wouldn't be the DC Comics obsessive I am today (or should I say "was, until about 5 years ago"). I had, before the end of the 1980's, managed to acquire every Who's Who issue (and thoroughly scoured them time and again, at one point even tracing the images within, creating mash-up characters, such as Rad Dude, the skateboard hero who had (Golden Age) Red Tornado's soup-pot head, Reactron's body and, for some reason, Heathcliff's legs).

Anyway, for some reason, issue #2 of Who's Who always eluded me... "for some reason"... I know exactly why... because issue #2 was the Batman issue, and it always fetched a much higher price than the other issues and was nearly impossible to find in most back issue bins. So it was with much excitement this year when I found it in a dollar bin at the Toronto Fan Expo, it's blue-background George Perez cover smacking me giddily in the face. The coveted prize was quickly escorted home where it was tossed in the pile beside the bed to be left, unloved, for many more months.

But I've now read it, and my knowledge of the DC Universe circa 1985 is now complete... completely out-of-date. Alas. Some notes:

"Automan" - there was a tragic-looking Tron-rip-off TV show from Glen A Larson (Battlestar Galactica, The A*Team) called Automan back in the 1980s. I seem to only recall seeing it on French-Canadian tv as a pre-teen. This isn't him. This dude looks kind of like Robotman, only dorky.

"Azrael" - not the Bat-universe Azrael, but some flying dude with wings who appeared briefly in the Teen Titans.

"Babe" - I have to wonder why the Atari Force, wonderful though it was, was given individual entries for each character in the series. It was out of DCU continuity and lasted less than 25 issues. Surely just one "Atari Force" entry in the first issue should have sufficed?

"Batman" - This was 1984 and Batman's Origin was as so:
Now and orphan, Bruce Wayne was placed in the care of his Uncle Philip. Since Philip Wayne was a world traveler, Bruce spent his formative years under the guidance of Philip's housekeeper, the kindly Mrs. Chilton (who was secretly Joe Chill's mother, a fact Bruce has never learned).


"Ben Boxer" - Never heard of him before but he sounds totally awesome and is an instant new favourite obscure character. One of Kirby's extras from Kamandi, which I should really give a gander one of these days.

"Big Sir" - man, he really didn't come unto his own until Giffen/DeMatteis/Jones got ahold of him.

"Black Canary II" - I honestly had no idea the Dinah's origin was this damn convoluted, but given DCU continuity it doesn't surprise me.
In pre-Crisis continuity, the younger Dinah was cursed by the Wizard while still an infant to create the Canary Cry. Johnny Thunder's Thunderbolt removed the baby to his own dimension, where she could do no harm, and then stripped Dinah and Larry of their memories of her existence as an act of mercy. Larry was subsequently killed and Dinah mortally wounded during the JLA/JSA battle with Aquarius. At the elder Dinah's dying request, the Thunderbolt retrieved her daughter, now a young adult, from the Thunderbolt dimension and had her take the elder's place. The younger Canary moved to Earth-One and joined the JLA. For a number of years, she believed that she was her mother.

"Blackhawk Island" - Reading this reminded me that "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" is basically the Blackhawks movie which nobody seemed to want or care all that much for.

This issue is a pretty neat time capsule of the confusion that resulted while Crisis on Infinite Earths was just beginning (it ran in parallel with that series for the first 12 issues, which was probably the biggest problem with the series). I think the writers/editors knew that changes were in the offing, but couldn't really write about them yet (there were no "Spoiler Alerts" back in them days, kids), so they were stuck trying to make sense of incredibly convoluted histories or bridge the differences between old and new (the Batman and Black Canary entries really highlight this). It's interesting reading, also from the standpoint of how diverse DC's offerings have been over the years, from non-continuity projects like Atari Force and Barren Earth to alternate-realities (but in-continuity) like Warlord and Amethyst to future and space heroes where characters like Automan and Ben Boxer came from.


Anonymous said...

That Black Canary thing was one of Roy Thomas's last pre-Crisis efforts to fix something. It occurred to him that there is no way the Black Canary from the 1950s could have married Larry Lance, attended his funeral, moved to Earth-1 in the 1970s (and picked up her canary cry in the transfer), and still remained 30-ish. Roy "solved" that problem.

Bill D. said...

Not sure where that bit about Bruce Wayne and Mrs. Chilton originated, but I remember first reading about it in the Untold Legend of the Batman mini-series, and lot of the origin details in that go back to the Golden and Silver Ages.

Siskoid said...

The last holdout in my Who's Who collection was the one with Elongated Man on the cover. It eluded me for a long time, but eventually found its way home

Automan: Well I'm a French Canadian who watched the show on American TV. Bizarrrrrrrooooooo!

Atari Force: Probably because Atari Force was still running at the time.

Ben Boxer: There's a take on the concept in the Kamandi At Earth's End Elseworlds mini-series.

The real question: Didn't DC announce a new Who's Who series to run at the same time as Legacies? What happened?!