After the ‘failure’ of Astro City at Image comics, the series transferred to Homage, the personal imprint run by Jim Lee, one of the Image founders, where it’s remained ever since, until this month, and the first issue of the series from DC’s Vertigo imprint. Astro City volume 2 would run for a total of 22 issues from 1995 to 1998, its schedule growing increasingly sporadic to to illness on the part of Busiek, which was eventually traced to mercury poisoning, causing bouts of extreme fatigue during which the writer, having a wife and family to support, concentrated his limited writing time on the better-paid work available to him at various times from Marvel and DC.
The second volume featured a mixture of short stories a la Life in the Big City, and novel length stories. The first of these was ‘Confession’, running in issues 4 – 9, and collected as the second trade paperback.
In his introduction to the Graphic Novel, Busiek discusses Robert Heinlein’s theories as to the very limited nature of stories. One of Heinlein’s categories is ‘A Boy becomes a Man’, and this is the ultimate basis of this novel.
The boy is Brian Kinney, who narrates the story from beginning to end. Originally, Kinney comes from outside Astro, from the small community of Buchanan Corners where his Dad, now deceased, was the Town Doctor. Kinney senior was a better doctor than businessman, more concerned with the treatment of illness than the collection of fees. Unsurprisingly, he was mercilessly exploited by the neighbours he served, and when he died destitute, was stigmatised by them as a deadbeat, and Brian as a chip off the same block. Brian runs away to the Big City, to seek his fortune.
Brian, like many a boy or girl in their late teens, is ambitious: he wants to become a superhero. the best way of doing this is to get taken on by an existing hero as a side-kick, and Astro City has the greatest concentration of costumes in the world. The first thing to do is to get to meet them.
He achieves this by initially getting a position at Bruisers, a down-market Bar and Grill, run by K. O. Carson, who used to be the Black Badge before he retired. Bruisers is the bar of choice for the more boisterous, rough and ready heroes, and Brian is actually a cut above that as waiter/busboy, so Carson recommends him uptown to a very exclusive, very unadvertised club, populated with the more creme de la creme of the community, a place where masks and costumes can be forgotten, where they can meet and mingle and relax.
Except, of course, that the crass Crackerjack turns up in costume, horribly embarrassing his girlfriend, Jessica Taggart (aka Quarrel (II)), and blowing the club’s security so that, a couple of nights later, the place is invaded by cheap gimmick crook, Glue-Gun.
In order not to be set upon by a couple of dozen heroes, Glue-Gun grabs a busboy as hostage, threatening to shoot him a skull-ful of epoxy. But the busboy he’s seized is Brian, who takes the opportunity to use his own martial arts training and knock Glue-Gun for a loop, to the mass approval of the guests.
Unfortunately, Brian’s acted out of turn. All the other waitresses/waiters/busboys and girls have been here for a number of years, looking for that shot, that chance to impress and be picked out, the one that, as far as they’re concerned, Brian’s stolen from them. They’re going to beat the shit out of him in the yard. That is, until a voice intervenes, that of the mysterious, black-clad hero, of whom no photo has ever been taken: the Confessor. And the Confessor wants to speak to Brian…
So Brian gets his wish, albeit under the rather unfortunate name of Altar Boy, undergoing training with the Confessor (whose real name is Jeremiah Parrish, and whose home/base is in an abandoned crypt in the sprawling, unfinished Grandenetti Cathedral). The Confessor is a mystery, but they’re supposed to be detectives, aren’t they? If Altar Boy wants answers, he has to do what they do with villains: find them for himself.
All of which is set-up for the second phase of the story. It’s a hot, dry, increasingly strained summer in Astro. The heat is driving people crazy, and they have something to be crazy about, because there’s a killer striking in Shadow Hill. He’s been killing for some time, but the public only starts to take notice, and demand action, after the first white victim, a smiling, beautiful, but above all white teenager.
It awakens something in the city, something that always underlies a world where figures of immense power, who are simultaneously protectors and ostensible oppressors (how could you stop them doing anything they decided to do?) have such incredible visibility. Gradually, public opinion, fed in many ways by the growing aggression of a City Mayor who seems determined to stand up for the ordinary people of America, the ones who seem to be beneath the notice of the arrogant supers, starts to turn nasty.
And it’s not just the city that’s disturbed, but Brian too, a new figure in transit between two worlds who can’t help sympathising with some of the citizen’s opinions, and wondering why he, and the Confessor, aren’t doing more to directly pursue this killer. That they’re not seems to have something to do with Shadow Hill’s antipathy to the Confessor himself, their obvious fear of him, the one time he crosses its boundaries. So much for Brian to think about, so many patterns to look at, trying each time to find what doesn’t fit, what is out of place, what inescapable conclusion it leads to.
The first revelation is the Confessor’s secret, one that, despite Brian’s trust for the man, disturbs him and leaves him in deep doubt about his role, and whether he should continue as Altar Boy. Meanwhile, the tensions continue to rise, and Astro City’s administration eventually declares virtual war upon its masked community, heading towards a massive quasi-military presence, to support legitimate law and order.
And it’s at that stage that the Confessor sees the flaw in the pattern, and leads Brian to the second, and ultimate revelation, of the other secret that has underpinned all the events of this story. And Altar Boy learns more than just one lesson from more than just one teacher as the hidden currents run through into the open and a resolution.
There’s an interesting macro-coda to the story in that, after all the dust has settled, the Shadow Hill Killer strikes again, but this time the culprit is apprehended and defeated by the area’s most unusual protector, the Hanged Man. The Killer had nothing to do with anything. It was just a coincidence, an unrelated story, seized upon and exploited as a smokescreen. And there’s an even more interesting micro-coda, four years on from the events of the story, demonstrating just how Brian responds to the lessons he has learned, and the Man he has become.
Overall, Confession is an intriguing, thoughtful, well-constructed story that shows a very different side to Astro City and to how ordinary people respond to heroes at different times. It also illustrates one of the advantages Busiek has created for himself in this series, in that, just like Marvel and DC, his Universe has a past. But unlike them, it’s a genuine past, not an ever-mutable construct that shifts according to the temper of the times, and it has a depth that isn’t available to either of the big companies’ insistence that all their stories have taken place over a fixed period of time, constantly shifting forward.
Astro’s history, as we’ll go on to see, is linked to the history of the comic book industry, to the mood of various eras influenced by the prevailing attitudes of the comics of that time. It lends an extra level of fascination, especially as Busiek’s trick is to refer to historical things in the way that we would do in real life: as history that everyone knows and recalls, needing no more than a brief reference. We are warned that the mood of suspicion and paranoia in this story is not new, that it was prevalent in the Seventies too. Names such as the Blue Knight and the Pale Horseman are dropped, piquing our curiosity.
In time, we will be satisfied as to those two characters, and the temper of the times in which they appeared, but the beauty of Astro City is that its history is long, and, given the publishing difficulties that would arise as a consequence of Busiek’s health issues, much of it is still the mystery in which it begins.
As for Confession, it is rounded off with “The Nearness of You”, a one-off story not published in either of the Astro City series, but instead in a promo issue of the then-successful Comics magazine, Wizard.
Just as Astro City presents a Universe in one comic book, this tale has Busiek presenting a Universe-wide, time and reality shattering event a la Crisis on Infinite Earths in a sixteen page story – or, to be more accurate, in three pages of that story, which is only right and proper given that it’s really only a MacGuffin. Only Busiek, only Astro City…
“The Nearness of You” focusses on Michael Tenicek, an ordinary guy being driven slowly demented by his memories. His days and nights are filled with memories of Miranda, a woman he knows, in intimate detail. But he doesn’t know who she is, or why he knows her, or where he met her. His friends and family have no idea who he’s talking about. He’s unable to think about anything else, and it’s destroying his life.
Until, one night, the Hanged Man comes to him in a ‘dream’. Tenicek’s ‘memories’ are dangerous: they are weakening reality. There was an event in which all of reality, all time and space was destroyed, but then it was reformed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a perfect match. All sorts of little details were changed: Air Ace fought the Barnstormers on a Sunday, not a Monday.
Miranda was Tenicek’s wife, but because of that changed detail, her grandparents never met. But his love for her is too strong. He has a choice: to give up those memories, forget Miranda utterly, or to retain them, and with that a sense of understanding that won’t explain but will relieve. Tenicek is one of many who have to make this choice.
The story is simple and affecting. In a universe of superheroes, of vast cosmic beings and cosmic wars in which reality is uncreated and recreated to serve a company’s continuity reboot, these are the unconsidered side-effects, the changes that beak hearts into impossible shapes that no-one cares about, except in this short moment of recognition of a risk everybody takes for granted.
Tenicek chose to remember and understand. Everybody does. The heart in all of us rises to that choice.
And next time DC rewrites its entire continuity, keep a thought for all the people who get fucked over by it. Even if it’s only the ‘real’ Justice Society of America.
You are now leaving Astro City. Please drive carefully.
Note: the following essay was written in about 2001/2002 for my personal amusement (I didn’t have a blog then) and appears now after being referenced in the recent JSA Legacies series. I’ve made no attempt to update it. I hope it amuses you too.
If I were to say that the current Wonder Woman is simultaneously the first, third and second to bear that name, and that her mother is, at one and the same time, the third, fifth and first, taking her name and identity directly from the character she inspired fifty years later, who preceded her by several years, you would be lost beyond all hope of comprehension.
Yet such a statement is meat and drink to a comic book fan, who regularly is expected to unravel such complex relationships with ease.
To the layperson, a considerably lengthy explanation is necessary to enable you to understand how such a situation could arise.
The first Wonder Woman (that is, the first first Wonder Woman: don’t worry, all will become clear) dates from 1941, making her debut in an unrelated back-up story in All-Star 8 and proceeding immediately to headline the new Sensation comics: she gained her own title in a shorter period of time than anyone before her and continued to appear in both Sensation and Wonder Woman until the former’s cancellation in the late 40’s.
Wonder Woman guested with the Justice Society of America in All-Star 11, appeared again in 12, when she was invited to become team secretary, and stayed with the JSA until their final adventure in All-Star 57 (although she played a purely passive and cameo role until issue 38 and was arguably demeaned when Black Canary became the JSA’s first official female member whilst Wonder Woman was never officially upgraded from secretary).
Wonder Woman’s title enjoyed continuous publication throughout the 50’s making her, along with Superman, Batman & Robin and back-up features Green Arrow and Aquaman, one of the few characters to have been continuously published since the Golden Age.
Wonder Woman was the daughter of Hyppolita, Queen of the Amazons. After their escape from bondage at the hands of Hercules, the Amazons withdrew from Man’s World, to Paradise Island. Hyppolita longed for a daughter and petitioned the Goddesses, who instructed her to form a baby girl from the clays of the riverbank. They then invested the model with life, the baby being named Diana and growing to become the best and strongest of the Amazons.
The Amazons learned of war in Man’s World when a USAF craft piloted by Major Steve Trevor accidentally penetrated the protective clouds that shielded Paradise Island from the world. Diana rescued the pilot, the first man she had ever seen, and immediately fell in love with him.
The Amazons resolved to send a representative to Man’s World, to help bring peace. Hyppolita forbade Diana to compete but her daughter entered the competition masked, and duly won out. To go into Man’s World, she was given a special costume, consisting of a red bathing suit top decorated by a golden eagle, blue culottes (later cycle shorts and even later orthodox trunks) spangled with silver stars and red boots (later laced Grecian sandals).
In Man’s World, Diana was given the name Wonder Woman thanks to a chance remark by Steve Trevor. She took over the identity of Army Nurse Diana Prince, who wanted to follow her boyfriend to California (and who, presumably, never came back). Later, Diana Prince entered the military, rising to the rank of Lieutenant.
Wonder Woman had super-strength, speed and agility. She could not fly, but could glide upon wind currents. She was not invulnerable, but was supremely skilled at deflecting bullets with her Amazonian bracelets. She possessed a magic lasso which, once looped around someone, forced them to obey her. She had an invisible robot plane which she controlled with her thoughts.
If Wonder Woman’s bracelets were bound together by a man, she lost all her powers. If she removed them, she lost all self-control and became a raging madwoman.
Wonder Woman was created by psychologist Wiliam Moulton Marston, with the assistance of artist Harry G Peters. Marston had complained about the lack of female role models in comics and was, in effect, challenged to come up with one.
The first inarguable appearance of the second Wonder Woman was in Brave & Bold 27, in 1960. B&B had started out as an adventure series, but was phasing into a try-out title, alongside the purpose created Showcase, which had very successfully introduced new (Silver Age) versions of Golden Age heroes such as Flash and Green Lantern. Now the new versions joined with the Big Three, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman and a couple of other characters to form the Justice League of America, a revival of the JSA-style hero team.
Which led to certain problems with internal consistency.
Wonder Woman (along with Superman and Batman) had been a member of the Justice Society where she had served alongside the Golden Age Flash and Green Lantern. She (like they) was now a member of the Justice League, serving alongside the Silver Age Flash and Green Lantern. But the Silver Age Flash’s origin had made it plain that, to him as much as us, the Golden Age Flash was nothing but a comic book character. How, then, could Wonder Woman serve with both?
This essential contradiction went unexplored (officially: no doubt it exercised the minds of fans) for a year, until the seminal “Flash of Two Worlds” in The Flash 123. This established the fact that there were two Earths, each occupying the same physical space but, due to their fractionally different vibration rates, forever invisible and intangible to one another – that is, until the Silver Age Flash accidentally tuned into the vibration rate of the other world and discovered that on this world the Golden Age Flash was more than just a comic book character.
This story would go on to be the foundation stone of DC’s Multiversal continuity for a quarter century. The Golden Age characters had lived, still lived, somewhat older, greyer, still with their powers but a bit rusty and with less stamina, on what would, in 1963, be termed Earth 2, whilst their newer counterparts lived on Earth 1.
No doubt the terminology was chronologically inverted, but to make that complaint ignores the reality of comic book publishing: Earth 1 was the current Earth, the mainstream, supposedly our own reality but with added superheroes, whereas Earth 2 was just that, a second Earth, a different Earth, where things were parallel but not the same.
There were two Flashes and two Green Lanterns and, within a year or so there would also be two Hawkmans and Atoms. It was less apparent that there also had to be two Supermans, two Batmans (and Robins) and, of course, two Wonder Womans.
These, however, were the Big Three, comics’ primal trinity. That there were now two of each was a logical necessity: that these alternates were virtually identical a logical requirement of their status. All three had experienced no break in their publishing history where it could be said that one had been replaced by another, and it was left to the obsessive fan to debate at which exact point DC had begun publishing the adventures of one in succession to the history of the other.
Thus the second Wonder Woman could only clearly be said to have first appeared when the first JLA adventure was published but, though her first unequivocal appearance was written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs, her creator was still Marston.
Though the Earth 1 Big Three were initially avatars of their originals – who would dare tamper with the Holy Trinity? – DC eventually cottoned on to the cute notion that where the early history of each character differed from the final and accepted form of the legend, those early and discarded characteristics now had a home.
Superman’s early days were littered with rejected elements – working for the Daily Star, not Planet, only developing powers as an adult, Luthor with a shock of red hair – which found their home in the Earth 2 version. Rather fewer distinctions could be drawn in the other two. The yellow oval that, in imitation of the Bat-signal, was placed around Batman’s symbol in 1964 was held to belong to the Earth 1 Batman only. And when the Earth 2 Wonder Woman finally made her bow, in 1967, she was found to have retained the original red boots, instead of adopting Grecian sandals.
As DC grew more confident in their parallel world system, moving it from gimmick to a fecund source of stories (sadly, the fecundity was in quantity, not quality), more differences appeared between the two Wonder Womans.
At first, it was the Earth 1 Wonder Woman, losing her powers and adopting a kind of Diana Rigg- Avengers existence, albeit only for a few years whilst her Earth 2 counterpart remained a fully-fledged Amazon. By the late Seventies, however, DC was fully alive to the possibilities of having a second version of a long-established character: things could happen to the Earth 2 Diana that could not be permitted to her more ubiquitous Earth 1 counterpart, because they would represent permanent change.
Thus the Earth 2 Wonder Woman could marry her Steve Trevor (instead of him dying in a hail of bullets, as happened to the Earth 1 version when DC simply ran out of ideas), and become the proud mother of a teenage superheroine: Hyppolita (Lyta) Trevor, aka The Fury, who had half her mother’s Amazonian strengths.
In the late Seventies/early Eighties, Wonder Woman transferred to TV in the bodice busting form of Lynda Carter. At first, her adventures were set in World War 2, with the comic immediately switching over to tales of the Earth 2 Wonder Woman to match: when a later series brought everything up to date, the Earth 1 model resumed control.
And a further change occurred in the early Eighties when Wonder Woman adopted a new costume: to tie in with a charitable Wonder Woman Foundation sponsored by DC, issue 300 saw the Amazon swap her golden eagle for a stylised WW logo across her capacious bosom. Naturally, her earlier counterpart retained her eagle.
But despite all this activity, despite her undoubted longevity, Wonder Woman had not, for many many years, been a big seller. With DC gearing up for massive continuity changes in 1985 with Crisis on Infinite Earths, the fate of the Amazing Amazon was just one of the issues under consideration. Crisis would bring to an end the Multiverse: a battle royal at the beginning of time would shatter the Multiverse from its inception, destroying all of reality for the briefest of spans before Time began anew, as a single Universe. The heroes of many parallel worlds, the Earth 2 Superman and Wonder Woman amongst them, as well as their modern counterparts, bounced back to the present day, in the new Universe, with full memories of the parallel worlds that had existed until just instants before.
The Universe had room in it for one Superman, one Batman and one Wonder Woman: the original, Golden Age versions were displaced, and had to be disposed of.
Superman, the progenitor, the first of the first, had the honour of striking the final victory blow, after which he was spirited away to some unidentified, unreachable paradisial retirement dimension, never to be seen again1. After that, he not only no longer existed, but never had. With the exception of Lois Lane, his wife, rescued from the reality storm as a final gift to go with him into Never-Never Land, his continuity disappeared with the Multiverse. His cousin Kara, aka Power Girl, was carried over into the Universe: in due course her ‘phoney’ memories of a Kryptonian background were replaced by ‘true’ memories of deriving her powers from the long dead Atlantean mage, Arion, her much-removed grandfather.
Batman had already had the decency to be killed off on Earth 2, dying with his boots on, saving Gotham City one last time, from an inadequate and totally inappropriate adversary. However, he left not merely his now-adult Robin, but also a daughter, by his late wife, the Earth 2 Catwoman. This daughter had become a heroine as the Huntress. Robin, of course, had to go, there being room only for one, but most people would have kept the Huntress if they could. However, when not only the character’s parents but her entire raison d’être have suddenly ceased to ever exist, it became entirely too difficult to proceed. Thus Robin and The Huntress were trapped beneath a crumbling building whilst saving lives but, when the rubble had been cleared away, there were no bodies to be seen – as if they had never existed. A new Huntress was created, and is still around to this date, but no-one pretends she has anything like the appeal of the daughter of Batman and Catwoman.
As for the original Wonder Woman, she survived the battle and, like her male equivalent, retired with honours, being translated to Mount Olympus and joining the pantheon of Greek Gods, with her Steve Trevor at her side. After which she ceased to have ever existed2. Her daughter, the Fury, carried on: she was now the daughter of a retrospectively-created Forties Greek Superheroine also called The Fury, and had been raised by an adoptive American family called Trevor.
But, unlike the formerly Earth 1 Superman and Batman, the second Wonder Woman also did not survive Crisis: during the final battle, she was hit by a bolt of Chronal energy flung out by the villainous Anti-Monitor, which reverted her to the clay she had once been. It did more than that: in a manner entirely different to the Crisis itself, it ensured that not only did the second Wonder Woman no longer exist she, like her predecessor, never had existed.
The scene was therefore set for a third Wonder Woman to appear, who would not only be the third Wonder Woman but also, naturally, the first. After all, there hadn’t been any before her. Let us think of her as the second first Wonder Woman.
The third Wonder Woman made her first appearance in Legends, a six issue crossover series drawn by John Byrne, but her true debut was reserved for the first issue of her new series, Wonder Woman 1. She remains created by William Moulton Marston, but this new version was the work of artist George Perez, abetted as scripter (over Perez’s plots) by Greg Potter – replaced after two issues by Len Wein.
Perez’s Wonder Woman resembled the original – shorts became standard female briefs, she wore boots and bore the now official WW symbol – and her origin was clearly based upon Marston’s original. The Amazon race were now the embodiment of the spirits of all women who had died of violence at the hands of men, Hyppolita’s being the only one to have been pregnant at the time, and Diana’s, after her ‘birth’ from the clays of the riverbank, being that of the unborn child.
Once more Steve Trevor’s plane accidentally penetrates the wards separating Paradise Island from Man’s World, but this is now a ploy by Aries, God of War, who is seeking to foment nuclear destruction. Trevor is a much older man now, clearly in his 50’s: an uncle to Diana rather than a would-be lover (his romantic interest will come in the form of an up-dated Etta Candy, once a cartoon fat girl comic relief side-kick, now a capable if overweight Air Force Lieutenant).
And in Man’s World, Diana is given the name Wonder Woman by a publicist wanting to cash in on her symbolic value, and assumed to be a superheroine by virtue of her costume – which is rather the abbreviated battle armour given her by her Amazon sisters.
The third Wonder Woman was briefly a member of Justice League Europe, very briefly that is, and in later years has come aboard the latest JLA, but that was many developments down the line. She was the one and only Wonder Woman: the role of secretary to the JSA – now the hero team of another generation instead of the hero team of another world – was retrospectively vested in 40’s strongwoman Miss America. Until…
But that is to get ahead of our account.
For now, the third Wonder Woman stood alone. Her series, directed by Perez, who eventually grew confident enough to script as well as plot/draw, and then to cede the art to Jill Thompson whilst he wrote, proved to be the success Wonder Woman should always have been, justifying DC’s drastic efforts to sweep the decks clear.
Perez moved on after five years, leaving his charge in the hands of writer Bill Loebs. After a couple of years, Loebs introduced the fourth Wonder Woman.
She appeared in ‘The Contest’, along with hot new artist Mike Deodato (one of a number of hot artists whose facility with the human body and the art of story-telling took second place to his ability to generate violent pictures filled with extraneous detail), which ran in Wonder Woman 0, 90-93. Hyppolita, unhappy at the general lack of success of Diana’s mission to Man’s World, called her home and required her to re-submit to the original selection process, to prove herself still the best Amazon: Diana was – you couldn’t see this one coming? – beaten.
The victor in this new contest, and the fourth Wonder Woman, Artemis – a redhead bearing an unfeasibly long and horrendously complex pony-tail – was an Amazon from Bana-Migdoll, being a separated strain of the Amazon race introduced under Perez, who had followed Hyppolita’s more aggressive and vengeful sister, and who had not taken all that well to absorption into the main Amazon race on Paradise Island.
Artemis had a far more aggressive nature, not being content to subdue and overcome evil but being far more inclined to slaughter it outright, in as visually explicit a manner as was compatible with the Comics Code.
The fourth Wonder Woman was a nod to the more violent times, the last thrashings of the grim’n’gritty movement, a warrior (with all that implies).
Fortunately, the perceptive among you will have taken regard of the issue number in which she was introduced. With Wonder Woman (second series) just over half a year from its centenary, a landmark usually marked by an over-sized issue and a life-changing moment, it was fairly clear that Diana’s resumption of her traditional role would be the feature event.
In the meantime, Diana refused to confine herself to Paradise Island, and returned to Man’s World to continue her career, in a fetchingly tight dark blue bra-top and cycle shorts. The two characters ran parallel until the climactic issue 100 when, in battle royal, Artemis paid the ultimate price in defeating a ravening monster, recognising with her dying breath Diana’s greater right to the Wonder Woman name and cossy.
Artemis would return from the dead in a later mini-series, but not as Wonder Woman, and hence has no further role to play in this account.
Diana resumed her role as Wonder Woman, until 1998. With issue 107, her series had been taken over by writer-artist John Byrne who, some eighteen months later, chose to play another game with the character, leading to the fifth Wonder Woman and the onset of total textual complexity.
To clear the way for another successor, Diana this time was to die. Like the first Wonder Woman (the first first Wonder Woman, that is) she was translated to Mount Olympus, to become one with the pantheon of Greek Gods, although the second first Wonder Woman would prove to be far less amenable to giving up her humanity for divinity than the first first Wonder Woman had (presumably) been and, after an appropriate length of time, returned to life and her given role.
In the meantime, the fifth Wonder Woman was Hyppolita: Diana’s mother assumed her role in Man’s World, in penance for the part she had to play in her daughter’s death. Hyppolita was the fifth Wonder Woman, but we must remember that she was also the third Wonder Woman, after Diana and Artemis.
Her costume was identical to that worn by Diana and Artemis, except that she wore a skirt of sorts, its length varying with the artist in question (one particularly juvenile minded artist not only drew it as a mini-skirt but planned his shots to give as many glimpses of Amazonian white panties as he could get away with).
Whether this change of apparel was intended to reflect Hyppolita’s greater dignity as an older (albeit still immortal) woman, or as a Queen, remained unspecified.
But Byrne had great ideas in mind. No sooner had Hyppolita appeared on TV for the first time as Wonder Woman than she sparked a memory of recognition in the mind of Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash. Almost fifty years earlier (in a short story published in 1997) Flash had been captured by an old foe: he had escaped thanks to the advice of a mysterious elderly stranger who resembled his father (and whose identity was obvious to anyone who had ever read more than three comics). Whilst this stranger had been spouting Get-out-of-Jail-free advice, Flash had glimpsed a woman in an overcoat and a strange costume in the background. Meanwhile, in 1998, Jay Garrick was convinced that he had now recognised the mysterious woman.
Hyppolita had no recollection of the incident, but was willing to accompany Jay back in time (courtesy of the invisible robot plane and Paradise Island’s somewhat nebulous situation in the time stream) to 1941 to check out the details.
Needless to say, and without any time-consuming speeches about how at-last-I-realise, the elder Garrick gave the requisite information to his younger self, wrapping up that short-lived mystery with the perfunctoriness it deserved.
But Jay persuaded Wonder Woman to let him visit the old JSA headquarters at the Smithsonian before returning to the present, not thinking that some of his old comrades – not to mention his younger self – might be about (why this should be when the JSA headquarters had never been anywhere near the Smithsonian ould be due either to Jay having a senior moment, or John being too arrogant to research: you pays your money… This led to an adventure with Nazi’s that Jay only seemed to remember as it went along.
At the end, Jay returned to the future alone: Wonder Woman had decided (with no apparent explanation) to remain in the Forties, which she did for half an hour, present day time, returning to 1998 having stayed in the Forties until 1950. If you know what I mean.
The moment she returned, Jay remembered all those JSA adventures that had included Wonder Woman. What’s more, now everyone remembered the Forties Wonder Woman, they could all remember how Diana (the second first Wonder Woman) had been given the name of Wonder Woman because of the recollection of the first Wonder Woman (Hyppolita, the third Wonder Woman).
So, just to get this straight, the first Wonder Woman was now Hyppolita, who was actually the third Wonder Woman in current continuity, and the fifth one overall. She was active between 1941 and 1950, as an interlude from being active in 1998-9, in succession to Diana, the first Wonder Woman (the second first Wonder Woman, that is), but the third Wonder Woman overall, who was given the name Wonder Woman in tribute to Hyppolita, who was the second Wonder Woman to succeed her but had appeared forty plus years before her, both taking her name from and bequeathing it to her daughter. Meanwhile, the Earth 2 Diana was actually the first Wonder Woman (the first first Wonder Woman), but she never existed anyway, and the second Wonder Woman was originally the same as the first Wonder Woman, and she never existed anyway either, but not for the same reason. And, so as not to leave her out, the odd one out in all this is Artemis, who was the second, fourth and third Wonder Woman, according to which angle you look at her.
All of which is clear as mud to you, and daylight to the comic book fan, who may not be regarded as quite as big an idiot as you thought. And if you think that’s complicated, let me tell you about the pre-Crisis history of the Spectre.
There’s no real need for this, but for completeness’s sake, and because I devoted an essay to Wonder Woman, at least a token effort seems appropriate.
The Man of Steel and the Darkknight Detective were the first two heroes, and they were the primal heroes, the twin poles between which all superheroes exist. Superman, the more than human in every respect, Batman, without a single superpower, humanity tuned up as far as it will go. Their success in being characters so popular that the kids would buy books featuring them and then alone. It was with a view to promoting those of his own characters that he believed could do the same that Charlie Gaines ordered up All-Star Comics and, through that, the Justice Society of America.
Superman and Batman were mentioned as being out there keeping the peace when the JSA had its inaugural dinner in All-Star 3, but they were not introduced as Honorary Members until there was a need for that class of Membership, when The Flash stepped down in issue 6. The very next issue, all three appeared briefly, at the end, to help out Johnny Thunder, but the World’s Finest Duo would only appear once in action, both in All-Star 36. I’ve discussed that particular issue elsewhere: suffice to say that it appears that Superman and Batman were shoe-horned into an already written story, to which they contributed little that was unique to them, and which was never repeated because of the intransigence of Superman’s editor, Mort Weisinger.
As with Wonder Woman, at some point between 1950 and 1960, DC’s stories about their big two switched from Earth-2 to Earth-1. I’m not going to start doing histories of the characters as they developed from there, as far as I’m concerned, that’s outside the remit of this series. But the careers of the Earth-2 versions are something different.
Though they were excluded throughout the Gardner Fox years, both Superman and Batman did eventually play their part in JLA/JSA team-ups. Superman appeared first, in 1969, and made the more appearances, with the Earth-2 Batman – referenced in 1967 as being in semi-retirement – only appeared once, in 1976. That was an unusual occasion, for almost at the same time Bruce Wayne was introduced in the All-Star revival as having ended his career as Batman, but still protecting his city as Police Commissioner.
Over the following months, a story was told: of how, years earlier, Batman had finally confessed his love for Selina (Catwoman) Kyle, who had served her time, gone straight, and then become his wife. They’d had a long and happy life together, and been blessed by a daughter, Helena, who inherited both their athletic skills and minds.
This idyll had come to an abrupt end when Selina was blackmailed by an old colleague into committing one last crime as Catwoman. With Robin out of town, Wayne had donned his costume to intervene, only to inadvertently cause the shot that killed Selina. After that, he tore up his costume, whilst Helena responded in true Wayne manner (I am so sorry, but I could not resist that), using her training to become The Huntress and eventually joining the JSA.
As Commissioner, Wayne had had a run-in with the JSA in which he appeared to be persecuting them, but this was exposed as being the influence of the Psycho Pirate in manipulating his emotions.
With Paul Levitz at the helm, the All-Star revival was making a determined effort to exploit Earth-2’s status as an alternate Earth, on which things were different, and this led to the controversial decision to kill the Earth-2 Batman.
The worst aspect of this was that the story – originally scheduled for the unpublished All-Star 75, but winding up split over Adventure 461 – 462, was such an atrocious, ill-founded, illogical and wholly unworthy affair. Instead of one of Batman’s traditional foes, we had a nobody from nowhere, a guy called Bill Jensen, suddenly invested with great and destructive power and intent on killing Commissioner Wayne. Jensen wanted revenge, claiming Wayne had framed him for murder to get himself into the Commissioner’s role, though Wayne stated that the case against Jensen was watertight. But after Jensen had knocked the JSA down – twice – Wayne puts on Batman’s costume for the last time, advances on Jensen through all these blasts that have floored the likes of Doctor Fate, until enough of his mask is burned away for Jensen to recognise him as Wayne and call down enough destructive force to kill both of them.
To compound this already idiotic story, the very next issue it turns out that the true culprit was a one-off sorcerer named Frederic Vaux, who was using Batman as a sacrifice to claim power for himself. So a Batman died – the original version of one of the two most important characters in DC’s history – killed in a stupid way by two nobodies.
Needless to say, an attempt was made to undo the ravages of this story, and by Roy Thomas, of course, but whilst his effort was marginally better, it was tedious and dull, and, most deep of ironies, required Thomas to contradict continuity! It appeared in the mini-series America vs the Justice Society, in which the late Batman’s Diary (a riff on the then recent Hitler’s Diary scandal) accused the JSA of having been firstly fascist dupes working for Hitler than, after the war, Communist dupes working for Stalin.
This required the Justice Society to go through a Congressional Enquiry in a ludicrous version of a courtroom drama in which all courtroom rules were thrown out. The mini-series was meant to string all the JSA’s cases into a comprehensible whole, which has the JSA ‘acquitted’ out of nothing more than popular sentiment, whilst the Batman Diary peg is settled by being a subtle clue by the late Wayne to an overlooked case the JSA needed to settle. As to why he didn’t just come out and tell anyone, this was attributed to Wayne’s paranoid attitude to the Justice Society in his last year, because he was dying of cancer.
Psycho-Pirate? What Psycho-Pirate?
No, it doesn’t make any sense, any more than the mini-series did. Thankfully, post-Crisis it all ceased to exist and it all became meaningless.
The original Superman at least fared better. He was brought into the JLA/JSA team-ups in 1969, the first post-Gardner Fox story, though probably in order to justify a tremendous Superman vs Superman cover by Neal Adams. Thereafter, he made the occasional appearance in team-ups, and had a short run in the All-Star revival, being introduced from the shadows in a page that simply breathes respect, and the right degree of awe (not, to be honest, something you could often accuse Gerry Conway of doing).
After that, DC seemed to recognise the value of having an alternate version of Superman around. For one thing, most of the canonical details of Superman’s career were later developments: the Earth-2 Superman could be distinguished by taking on all the original, spurned conditions – the Kryptonian name Kal-L, no Superboy career, working at the Daily Star under George Taylor, a more brutal Lex Luthor with a shock of red hair.
Best of all, he could allow DC to tell the then-unthinkable story of Clark Kent’s marriage to Lois Lane, and the back-up series “Mr. and Mrs. Superman.” Crisis on Infinite Earths, as it was intended to do, swept all this away, but the series paid a proper respect to the original Superman, to the Primal Hero, the First Of Them All. He survives the transformation from Multiverse to Universe, only to find himself on an Earth that only has a place for one Clark Kent. He is utterly alone, his Lois gone, but still he throws himself into the final battle, striking the final series of blows that destroy the villain, whose ambitions have diminished in scope but increased in intensity.
The First strikes the last blow, and his reward is escape, to leave the Universe, together with his Lois and two other companions, into a place of beauty, of peace, of reward for all he has done, never to be seen again.
Unfortunately, as I have previously had occasion to mention, the word ‘never’ is devoid of meaning in mainstream comic books.
Superman’s other two companions were Alexander Luthor of the former Earth-3 – a world of inverted moral standards, where all the heroes were villains, and the Luthors were the only good guys – and Superboy of Earth-Prime – supposedly our own world, the one where we all read DC Comics. This latter was an oddity: he had been created halfway into Crisis, a new alternate world character in a series intended to wipe out all alternate world characters. I never understood why he was created at all, unless it were for the tenuous purpose of providing a Superboy to go into retirement, as a gesture to the forthcoming reboot and modernisation of Superman by John Byrne, in which Clark Kent’s teenage career would not now exist.
‘Never’, in this case, lasted fourteen years. In 1999, in The Kingdom, a sequel to his massively successful Kingdom Come series two years previously, Mark Waid introduced a figure battering at an invisible barrier in the sky. It looked like Superman, despite the shadowed face, but only the older readers noticed the simplified ‘S’ shield on his chest, the mark of the elder Superman. The Kingdom introduced the short-lived concept of Hypertime, a bold and flexible means of reintroducing a form of the Multiverse (and eliminating continuity errors by absorbing them). Waid’s story reminded people that the first superhero was still out there, and strongly hinted that he would someday returm.
Had he done so under Waid, one of the biggest Superman fans alive, I’m sure it would have been a delight, and a fitting return. But Hypertime was banished and DC started building towards Infinite Crisis, the twenty-years-after sequel to the original Crisis and a reboot that would restore the Multiverse itself, in a more composed and finite form, as 52 Earths, each of differing histories.
It transpired that the original Superman and his fellow exiles had been observing the new Earth all along, growing ever more despondent over its darkening, its deterioration, its increasing corruption. Superman blamed everything on Earth-1, an inherently flawed Earth, being ‘chosen’ as the template for New Earth. At last, he broke everybody out, to change thing, to have the purer, nobler, cleaner Earth-2 as the template for a revised New Earth.
But Superman was unaware that his young allies had their own agendas. Alexander Luthor, specifically the ‘good’ Luthor, seemed to have made the intellectual decision to turn bad, just because all the others had been: he planned to first recreate the Multiverse, then create a perfect Earth by combining the best elements from however many Earths it took.
Superboy-Prime was a different kettle of fish. He was a permanent adolescent, full of raging hormones, trapped and unable to grow up to become Superman. He wanted his Earth back, Earth-Prime, his girlfriend, and to become the important one. He was a rage of uncertainty, paranoia, defensiveness, ignorance, arrogance and refusal to accept responsibility. In short, the psychological portrayal was acute, but on the page he was a hideous, whining, embarrassing OTT mess, who grew increasingly difficult to read on an exponential basis.
He became the villain, intent on destroying the newly created Uni/Multiverse and being the only hero left. To stop him, it took the two Supermen flying him through the core of Krypton’s red sun, temporarily stripping him of his powers. Unfortunately, it also stripped the two Supermen of their powers and, before other hands could come to restrain him, Superboy-Prime beat the original Superman to death with his fists.
In 1985, DC had been so respectful of their first hero, the First Of Them All, that he had struck the ultimate blow and gone on to peaceful retirement. Twenty years later, thinking of themselves as daring and edgy, they had him bludgeoned to death by a hysterical shrieking parody of his younger self.
No more telling symbol of the degradation of the comics industry could possibly be created.
Now the past, the history, has been destroyed yet again, only to be strip-mined for yet another round of pallid imitations, supposedly sophisticated but utterly devoid of any true life, just to titillate the jaded appetite of an ever-shrinking audience, taught by its own decadence and by the drip-feed of horror and destruction in its entertainment to respond only to the pulling off of fly’s wings in cruelty that exists only for its own sake.
For that, you have to have brutalised and ignobled the symbol of what once stood for openness, good, morality and progression towards what was better for everyone.
Superman is better off out of it. So too all the heroes of the Justice Society of America.
The Black Canary was more than just the last Forties member of the Justice Society, more even than their first and only official female member: the Black Canary was the last hero, the last new costumed character to appear before the Golden Age would come to an end. And she started out as a villainess.
Black Canary was created by Robert Kanigher and artist Carmine Infantino, for the Johnny Thunder series in Flash Comics 87, although given his contempt for the character, what Kanigher was doing writing Johnny Thunder in the first place is in itself a mystery. (Less of a mystery if you read his Wonder Woman, which is riddled with contempt for everybody, the reader not least).
The Canary was introduced as a beautiful blonde jewel thief, in a haltered evening dress and black domino mask, whose USP was that she stole from other crooks.
Naturally, Johnny was as much infatuated as eager to defeat the Canary who, equally naturally, got away to fight another day. That other day was the following issue, the character having gone down so well at National that Kanigher brought her back immediately, with an explanation that she had been misunderstood: she was a hero who was stealing crook’s ill-gotten gains in order to return them to their rightful owners. On that basis, she was installed as Johnny’s co-star in the name of the series.
The Canary’s real identity was dark-haired florist Dinah Drake. She was the only daughter of Gotham City Police Sergeant Richard Drake, who’d wanted a son to succeed him in the Police. When he had a daughter, he trained her for the Police, only to see her rejected for one of the few female posts available, after which he died of a broken heart.
This story has subsequently been retconned to make Sergeant Drake one of the few honest policemen on the pre-Commissioner Gordon Gotham Police, and Dinah’s rejection a matter of the force not wanting a second honest Drake around.
Dinah seemed to take her rejection calmly, giving up her Police ambitions and opening a florist’s shop. However, secretly she used her skills as the Black Canary. Her costume consisted of a dark-blue bathing suit, a lighter blue short jacket, fishnet tights and dark-blue boots, ith her dark hair concealed under a long blonde wig. The domino mask was dropped after only a couple of appearances.
It was the beginning of the end for Johnny: with Flash Comics 92, the Canary’s only cover appearance, she took over the series in her own name, until Flash was cancelled a year later, with issue 104.
Black Canary first appeared with the JSA as a guest in All-Star 38, discovering the dying Johnny Thunder in time to get life-saving aid for him from Wonder Woman, then turning up at the end to belt the improbable villain round the back of the head and save the JSA. The Canary would leave, hesitantly expressing the faint hope of maybe one day being invited into the Justice Society, but there wasn’t a vacancy until after the next issue (in which she turned up again), when Johnny Thunder stepped down.
Even then, though Black Canary spent the whole of issue 40 alongside the JSA, as an equal, it wasn’t until the next issue, in which she’s very clearly a guest and an outsider, that she’s eventually rewarded by officially gaining membership.
This lasted only until All-Star 57 and the Justice Society’s retirement.
She returned in the cameo JSA flashbacks in The Flash 129 but, as the JSA’s only female representative, Black Canary was featured in the 1963, 1964, 1966 and 1968 team-ups. She also took part in two issues of Brave & Bold, teamed with Starman, with whom she’d never worked before the 1964 team-up. Then things changed dramatically in the 1969 team-up.
Denny O’Neill’s tenure on the Justice League came with a mandate for change. This included having both the Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman resign (the latter because she had lost her powers), but it left the JLA without a female member. There weren’t any credible Earth-1 heroines lined up to replace her, so it was decided to poach Black Canary from the Justice Society.
This was also the year that O’Neill tried to combat the ever-growing age-gap between the War-tied Society and the perpetual Cinderellas of the League by the notion that Earth-2’s different vibration rate caused it to run slightly slower than Earth-1: twenty years to be precise, putting the JSA back into their prime. So Black Canary ended up trapped in the face of a lethal ball of energy from the villainous star, Aquarius, her brain-washed husband Larry Lance was on the point of killing Green Arrow, but love won over his conditioning and he sacrificed himself to save Dinah.
And Black Canary asked to be taken back to Earth-1, to avoid a world filled with memories of her dead husband.
The next issue, whilst some of the JLAers (I’m looking at you, Hawkman) argued that the Canary shouldn’t be allowed in because all she brings to a team that regularly faces cosmic menaces is a jolly good judo throw, Dinah demonstrated for the first time an ability to generate an ultra-sonic and highly debilitating ‘Canary Cry’. It’s an instant mutation, caused by Aquarius’s radiation, but it’s a superpower nonetheless.
For the next dozen years, that was the new status quo. Black Canary quickly mastered her new power. She started a romantic relationship with Green Arrow that has lasted forty years, give or take the odd time or two off. And, with the exception of a couple of solo series and mini-series, the Canary has always been seen in the context of various teams – mostly the Justice League but, in later years, the Birds of Prey and the revived Justice Society.
Black Canary has undergone two major reboots in that time, both coming within a few years of each other in the early to mid-Eighties. The first of these was carried out by Roy Thomas (who else?), though via the medium of the 1982 JLA/JSA team-up, rather than Infinity, Inc, and was a response to the ongoing Black Canary/Green Arrow relationship.
It had begun as a relationship of roughly age-equals, though the Canary was obviously much older than the Archer. But Gerry Conway (implicitly) and Paul Levitz (explicitly) had rejected O’Neill’s differently-flowing timestreams theory in the All-Star revival, and pinned the Justice Society like butterflies to a real calendar. By 1982, Dinah Drake Lance was in her mid-fifties and getting increasingly implausible as either a superhero or a lover to a hero twenty years or so her junior.
For the 1982 team-up, Thomas brought back the Earth-1 Johnny Thunder for an adventure that was a complete travesty, except that, for its cliffhanger, the Thunderbolt took Black Canary to an interdimensional pocket, where she discovered her own body lying in a glass case.
What followed was the revelation that, since 1969 and Justice League of America 75, we had been following the adventures of Black Canary 2, of Dinah Laurel Lance, daughter of Dinah Senior.
It appeared that, when Dinah Junior was still a baby in her pram, she had been hit by a revenge spell from the former Injustice Society leader, the Wizard, who cursed her with the ‘Canary Cry’, a power that the months-old baby was incapable of controlling. The effect was devastating, and the distraught parents were forced into the hateful necessity of putting baby Dinah into the aforesaid interdimensional pocket, courtesy of Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt, where she could grow with her powers causing disasters. Seeing the distress it caused, the Thunderbolt removed Dinah Junior from the memories of her parents and the JSA.
Now, as Superman prepared to take her into Earth-2, Dinah Senior suffered crippling pains. The radiation from Aquarius was killing her. The Thunderbolt led them to Dinah Junior’s hiding place, where she had grown to adulthood, the spitting image of her mother. Dinah Senior’s final wish was that her daughter should be able to have a real life, so the ‘Bolt transferred all of Dinah Senior’s knowledge, memories and emotions to her daughter who, believing herself still to be the original Black Canary, had arrived on Earth-1 with a new body and a new life.
The reboot held for a bit more than three years until it required rebooting itself as a consequence of Crisis on Infinite Earths. The basis of the story remained the same: the current Black Canary was still Dinah Laurel Lance, and she was still the daughter of Dinah Drake Lance, the heroine whose career had begun in 1948, but there was no crossover between Earths, no Aquarius, no dead mother. Instead, Dinah Junior was a child who grew up with two loving parents, and a set of magical Uncles in the rest of the Justice Society. Dinah Junior assumed she would grow up to inherit her mother’s role, only to find Dinah Senior forbidding it. The elder Canary, especially after Larry’s death, believed the world had become too dangerous and dark for a Black Canary.
But Dinah’s ‘Uncles’ – especially Wildcat – agreed to train her behind Dinah Senior’s back, and eventually Dinah Junior stole her mother’s costume in a moment of frustration, and became the new Black Canary (as well as taking over the Florists’ business). She would even replace Wonder Woman as a founder member of the Justice League.
In this story, Dinah Junior’s powers developed later in her life, with no apparent cause to them, but her insistence on taking over as Black Canary drove a wedge between the two women, a rift that was only healed on Dinah Senior’s deathbed, from a cancer brought on by Aquarius’s radiation.
In the early days post-Crisis, Black Canary, in a much-revised, far less sexist costume, was a founder member of the Justice League International, a frequently-irreverent series, from which she disappeared, abruptly, after about eighteen months.
This was to facilitate the next phase of her career, in Mike Grell’s The Longbow Hunters, a three-issue Prestige series rebooting Green Arrow and taking him, and Black Canary, out of the mainstream DC superhero universe. The couple established themselves in Seattle, Washington, for a series of down-to-earth, non-heroic adventures until, with Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen beginning to show a roving eye, he and Dinah broke up, leaving the Canary in a very unhappy situation.
But the most controversial aspect of this period came upfront. In a reversal of their original age-relationship, Ollie was now by far the elder, having turned forty whilst Dinah was still only in her mid-twenties. Dinah was adamant that, whilst she loved Ollie, she would not make babies with him because she would not risk making orphans. Grell then removed that very option: Black Canary was caught (offstage) during an underground operation, was tortured and (impliedly) raped and had to be rescued by Green Arrow, who shot to kill. The outcome for Dinah was that she lost her ‘Canary Cry’ and became incapable of conceiving. Many people loathed the casual way this had been forced upon one of DC’s few strong female characters.
By the time Green Arrow died (temporarily, at least, replaced by his son in an ironic echo of Black Canary’s past), the two were completely estranged. Black Canary found herself going into partnership with Barbara Gordon in the new series Birds of Prey. Barbara, Commissioner Gordon’s niece, had been operative as Batgirl 2 from 1967 to 1988, before being crippled when the Joker put a bullet through her spine. Confined to a wheelchair, she had created a new role for herself as Oracle, the DC Universe’s premier information broker and computer genius. Birds of Prey started as a team-up with Black Canary, with the latter as field agent, but it has gone on to develop into a team of female operatives.
The new series featured another change of costume for the Canary, this time going to a more streamlined variation on her original costume, and with died blonde hair instead of a wig. This was carried over into the revived JSA series, with Black Canary a stalwart in the early days, and even starting a relationship with Doctor Mid-Nite 3, until Green Arrow returned from the dead, and Dinah was editorially reclaimed for various combinations of his new series, the JLA and the Birds of Prey. Dinah and Ollie resumed their relationship and, after Infinite Crisis, even got engaged and, whisper it after so many years, married.
The marriage didn’t last. It didn’t get off to the best of starts, with Ollie attacking Dinah on their wedding night and Dinah killing him, but of course that wasn’t the real Ollie. The first case of the new Green Arrow/Black Canary series was therefore Dinah tracking down her kidnapped husband.
These days, with mainstream superhero comics being dominated by editorially driven events, it’s impossible to say whether the marriage was actually intended as a long-term status, but in real life it wasn’t. A Justice League story featured Star City being devastated (again) by the villain Prometheus, but this time the victims included Ollie’s adoptive granddaughter. Green Arrow went after Prometheus without talking to Dinah, and killed him in cold blood. She in turn helped to persuade him to turn himself in but, given his refusal to talk, she divorced herself from him by taking off her wedding ring.
Since then, the Canary has operated away from Green Arrow, serving as Justice League chairman at one point and reforming the Birds of Prey at another. She’s now regarded as a master tactician, and one of the greatest martial artists in the world.
Most of this has been swept away by the New 52, but Black Canary continues in the newest Universe, in much the same form as she was, although she’s now the only Black Canary and there is not nor ever has been any Dinah Drake Lance. How that leaves Dinah Laurel Lance’s background, I do not know, nor do I intend to inquire.
Wildcat’s is an interesting story to reflect upon. He was a Forties also-ran, who was twice elevated to Justice Society membership, only be be immediately rejected through no fault of his own. Discounting the Trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, he was the last JSA member to be brought back in the Silver Age. He appeared more often with Batman in Brave & Bold than he did in JLA/JSA team-ups, yet from the All-Star revival in 1976, his status has grown and he has been an ever more central figure in the Justice Society, to the point where his absence has become unthinkable.
It’s a bit like Green Arrow’s career path, as explored on here at length not long ago, except that the Big Cat has never at any time been made over: his time finally came, and when it did, it stayed.
Wildcat was created in 1942 by writer Bill Finger and artist Irwin Hasen, for SensationComics 1. Sensation was dominated by Wonder Woman, but Wildcat’s series was consistently the second most popular in the anthology. Wildcat was Ted Grant, whose father Henry had intended for him never to be afraid of anything, and who had been trained in all sorts of sports discipline. But Henry Grant’s death had left Ted penniless, unable to go to college. Whilst searching for something he could do, Grant stopped two muggers attacking a man in an alley: the man he saved turned out to be Heavyweight Champion ‘Socker’ Smith, who took Grant under his wing, and started him in a boxing career.
Grant turned out to be a natural fighter and his career began to take off, leading eventually to a match against Smith. Their crooked managers, Flint and Skinner, sought to fix the fight by slipping a drugged needle into Grant’s glove, but they misjudged the dosage and Smith was killed. The managers pinned the blame on Grant and tried to kill him by running the Police van off the road, but though the Police were killed, Grant survived. He went on the run, trying to clear his name. After hearing a kid talking about his Green Lantern comic, Grant was inspired to create his own masked identity. He became Wildcat, dressing in a dark, blue-black bodysuit, incorporating claws on his hands and feet, and a pullover headcowl and eyemask shaped like a panther-esque head.
Having solved his own case, Grant found himself keeping up his Wildcat identity, especially after he was landed with a comic relief character as early as his third adventure. This came in the form of Hiram “Stretch” Skinner, a lanky American yokel with improbably long arms and legs, check suit and straw boater, who had come to the big city to become a ‘dee-tec-a-tiff’, and became Wildcat’s partner to all intents and purposes.
Wildcat got his first chance at JSA membership alongside stable-mate Mr. Terrific in All-Star 24. Like the Defender of Fair Play, Wildcat was to join the Justice Society, and his headshot appeared on several issues worth of Junior JSA Certificate adverts, but Charlie Gaines’ insistence of having Flash and Green Lantern back prevailed, and the Big Cat became a mere guest on the first appearance.
But he was not forgotten. The Atom was about to be dropped from All-American, leaving a slot open, and the Feline Fury was chosen to replace him.
His first case as an honest-to-goodness member was written at the request of a national Children’s Charity, who had requested National to feature a story promoting tolerance towards disabled children. Thus the JSA deliberately set out to elevate such youngsters’ sense of worth by involving them in cases where their attributes were of service. Some see it as patronising, from a modern perspective, though I disagree: each of the six children featured are given the chance to act, to demonstrate to themselves as much as others that a disability in one area does not incapacitate them in everything. Each impresses their community and overturns prejudices.
A laudable story, but one with unintended consequences for Wildcat. Naturally the Charity wanted to see the story as soon as possible, so it was advanced into All-Star 27. But this left two complete JSA stories featuring the Atom – and three once someone discovered that the original story for issue 24 was still unpublished. National were not prepared to pay extra to have Atom figures pasted over with Wildcat, nor to chop and change membership between the two over such a short span, so the Tiny Titan stayed, and the Big Cat went back to the bench. These days, he and Mr. Terrific are treated as having been Reservists.
Eventually, Wildcat’s series was cancelled after Sensation 90, and he disappeared until 1966, when he appeared in the fourth JLA/JSA team-up. After that, he didn’t appear again until 1972, when everybody turned up, but a Wildcat character did team-up with Batman four times in Brave & Bold.
This Wildcat is a bit of an anomaly, like the Earth-1 Spectre of Joe Orlando and Michael Fleisher. There was never any reference to the Justice Society, whilst the Batman involved was fairly clearly the Earth-1 Batman, so the status of this Wildcat is by no means certain. On the other hand, Brave & Bold was edited by Murray Boltinoff and written by Bob Haney, neither of whom held much truck with continuity. Indeed, the Multiverse did come to include an Earth-B originally proposed by fans as the only logical home for any story edited by Boltinoff, so we may as well not pay this version any attention.
But everything changed in 1976, when All-Star was revived. For no apparent reason, given that he had made so few appearances with the Justice Society, Wildcat was part of the initial line-up, alongside Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and Doctor Fate.
Maybe it was just so he could be presented as a contrast to the feminist Power Girl: Wildcat has, ever since, been portrayed as a tough guy, with a streak of chauvinism (though as time has gone by, a certain amount of self-mockery has crept in, as if Grant knows very well the impression he’s creating and is playing the part to a larger degree). But the constant clashes between the two were a running feature of the series. Wildcat even took centre stage towards the end of the run, suffering brain damage after being cut by one of the Thorn’s thorns and needing emergency surgery. Though he recovers from this, he was written out in the penultimate Adventure episode, feeling his age amongst the JSA’s new younger members, and deciding to open a gym and start training the next generation of superheroes.
From here, Wildcat went back into obscurity again, with the JSA only represented in All-Star Squadron. But, as Crisis loomed and Roy Thomas lost his battle to completely undercut everything it was devised for by retaining Earth-2, the time came for a genuine Wildcat 2, in, where else? the pages of Infinity, Inc.
Thomas had thinking for some time of bringing forward a feline superheroine. Originally, she was to have been Canadian, but when the character first appeared, as a teaser in an Infinity,Inc promo, she was riding a motorcycle (rather like Wildcat used to) as La Garra, a latina.
Then, with Crisis looming, he decided instead to make his new heroine Wildcat 2. She was Yolanda Montez who, it transpired, was Ted Grant’s god-daughter, being the daughter of another boxer, “Mauler” Montez. Yolanda had cat-like attributes, having retractable claws in her hands and feet, and took up the Wildcat costume in tribute to ‘Uncle’ Ted. Wildcat did not approve, until he learned it was little Yolanda behind his mask, at which point he gave her his blessing.
The transition seemed to be permanent, especially when, during Crisis, Wildcat 1’s legs were crushed in battle with a possessed Red Tornado 2, leaving Grant confined to a wheelchair forever.
Grant even appeared in a wheelchair at the start of The Last Case – ludicrously in full costume apart from legs bandaged from hip to foot, but he was mystically rejuvenated to deal with both the fatal attack on Hitler in 1945, and the charge into the Gotterdämmerung limbo, where Wildcat fought forever.
But Yolanda didn’t last. Her post-Crisis appearances were few, and, along with Doctor Midnight 2, she was killed off in an attack on Eclipso in his own series in 1992
Wildcat 1 returned to action in the open-ended Justice Society of America series. He and the Atom teamed-up to rebuild their private lives, by opening a ‘training facility’ (or Gym, as Grant nostalgically put it). It was touching to see how concerned Al Pratt was for his buddy, and the fear that Grant’s legs might go out again at any time, but the rejuvenation was proof against that happening again
The series was, as we know, short-lived, and in Zero Hour Wildcat was one of those pushed to the brink of death by being re-aged. Like Doctor Mid-Nite 1, he required a heart operation but, unlike McNider, Grant survived. But it was clear that he would never be a superhero again.
The next sighting of Wildcat was in a three-issue series that he co-headlined with Batman – the first time Wildcat appeared under his own name (and other than a mini-series in which Grant co-starred with Catwoman, the only time). The series started badly, with Wildcat fighting against Batman foe Killer Croc, who beat and killed him inside two pages. This, however, was Wildcat 3, coming and going in those few panels.
This hapless lug was Hector Ramirez, an ex-Marine who’d trained under Grant and wanted to succeed him as Wildcat. When Grant refused, Ramirez stole a costume and went out as Wildcat, only to be captured and forced into a series of underground fights for illicit betting. This ‘origin’ of Wildcat 3 is more or less as long as his entire career on the comics page, but the details were related by a completely fit and healthy Ted Grant, who’d obviously made the best ever recovery from a heart attack there has ever been in the world. And he didn’t half look bad for someone bordering on being seventy, especially when he got into costume and ended up fighting Batman.
An explanation was not long in coming. In JLA 28-31, Grant Morrison brought the officially retired Justice Society back into action, for the first team-up between the two teams since 1985. It was a great and glorious romp, worthy of inclusion in such a prestigious series, and it surely contributed to the full-scale revived JSA series a year later. It introduced JJ Thunder, it gave Hourman 3 his first meeting with the JSA, and it included a welcome addition to Ted Grant’s career.
Much is made throughout the story of the fact that someone is going to die. Morrison also foreshadows things by bringing Hyppolita into the action on the JSA’s side, meeting Wildcat for the first time in decades (it would be retrospectively provided that Ted and Hyppolita had an affair in the Forties), and her asking how Ted has remained as active as her when he isn’t immortal.
It’s a damned good question and, when Wildcat proves to be the sacrifice, letting the villain explode his heart rather than that fate happen to The Huntress or Hyppolita, it’s a moment of shock for the reader as well as Ted’s team-mates: there have been so many JSA deaths in recent years. Everybody gathers rounds, mourning, until Wildcat is forced to admit it’s getting embarrassing.
Yes, Grant is alive, and the secret he’d been keeping for decades is finally out: the Afterlife has a cat-flap (brilliant line!). Or rather, Wildcat’s had nine lives since an incident in 1945, and he’s only used up a couple: come on, he didn’t get to look this way through clean-living only.
The nine lives thing was never played up much, and Grant remained his tough, wiseguy self throughout the JSA and Justice Society of America series that followed. By now he was an elder statesman of the JSA, by virtue of having survived, a central figure in all incarnations to come.
And as an elder statesman, and an undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the World, Grant has also been a trainer to more than one younger hero. That he helped trained Dinah Lance, the second Black Canary, was long-established, but Wildcat went on now to be revealed as a mentor, and occasional lover, to Selina (Catwoman) Kyle, and a trainer to none other than Batman (one of the few people who can see that left hook coming).
At one point, in the 2000s, it was decided to remove Grant’s nine lives, by having the Crimson Avenger 2 pursue him for framing an innocent man, and kill him enough times in quick succession so as to leave him only his last life, but even this has been reset so that Grant permanently has nine lives, meaning that he can only be truly killed if someone kills him nine times in quick succession.
Grant still remains the Wildcat, but post Infinite Crisis another successor, Wildcat 4, was introduced and thrived far better than Yolanda Montez or Hector Ramirez before him.
Tom Bronson is actually Ted Grant’s son, one of two children Grant fathered out of wedlock at different times. Initially, Bronson was the son of a one-night-stand, without any resentments towards his absent father, though subsequently, Grant’s relationship with Bronson’s mother has been expanded upon. However, Bronson turned out to be a metahuman, capable of turning into an actual black-furred, long-tailed Wildcat. Despite his reservations about being a superhero, and the fact that the Wildcat name was firmly taken, Bronson entered the new ‘training-system’ JSA, and Grant was more than happy that they both be Wildcat, given that both Flash and Green Lantern had other heroes operating under their names, without any confusion whatsoever. However, Bronson increasingly was referred to as Tomcat.
Whether that name has stuck, or if Bronson was still Wildcat 4 became irrelevant in the New 52. All Wildcat’s have been swept away, and there has been no sign so far of another reappearing. Given the popularity Ted Grant achieved over the years, I would expect him to be brought back in Earth-2 at some point, but I’ll stick with the down-to-Earth guy I’ve been reading for almost fifty years.
I declare a personal interest here. Like the Red Tornado, officially there should be no place in this series for Mr. Terrific. Granted, he appeared in an entire issue of All-Star, not a mere page, but it was emphasised that he was just passing through, helping out, nothing to see here.
But Mr. Terrific was in the very first Justice Society line-up I ever read, and he was regarded there as ‘terrific’ enough to impersonate Batman. He was treated as an equal. And he became a personal favourite: I’m damn well not going to leave him out!
Mr. Terrific was created by Charles Reizenstein and artist Hal Sharp for the first issue of All-American’s third anthology title, SensationComics, and he would go on to appear in every issue (except 37) until ending his run with issue 63.
Terry Sloane was a boy prodigy, an award-winning architect at age 10, a college graduate at 13, an all-round genius and an Olympic athlete. And by his early twenties, Sloane was bored of a life that lacked challenges, and about to commit suicide by jumping from a bridge.
He was diverted from this course by having to intervene to save a young woman menaced by thugs. Wanda Wilson turned out to be more concerned about her younger brother, whom she was bringing up, and the risk of his drifting into a gang. Sloane decided to use his many talents to provide a better role model for young men, a figure who would teach them to respect Fair Play.
As Mr. Terrific, Sloane wore a red top incorporating a pull-over head cowl and eyemask, a green jacket with the words ‘Fair Play’ on a shield across his stomach, black tights and brown boots. He posed as an effete snob to divert attention away from himself, but Wanda Wilson easily saw through Mr. Terrific’s secret and became Sloane’s secretary and aide (and later girlfriend), to help his cause.
Terrific’s sole appearance with the JSA came about as a consequence of the All-American dispute: with More Fun and Adventure off-limits, Mayer decided, logically, to extend All-Star’s ‘catchment area’ to Sensation. The comic’s two leading characters behind Wonder Woman, Wildcat and Mr. Terrific, were to become JSA members, but Charlie Gaines had different ideas and, late in the process, insisted that the more popular Flash and Green Lantern be brought back.
So the two new boys had their dialogue rewritten to portray them as guests. And, given the nature of the story, which placed the emphasis on pacifist Richard Amber and not the heroes accompanying him on his journey through Germany’s history, Terrific didn’t even get the chance to show off his paces, landing no more than a couple of haymakers before the story moved on.
And that was that, as far as the JSA was concerned.
Incidentally, in 2007, DC decided to supplement their All-Star Archive series (twelve hardback volumes reprinting the entire run of All-Star 1-57) with JSA All-Stars Archive Volume 1 (no Volume 2 has appeared, though there was a ten year gap between All-Star Archives 2 and 3). This featured the first five adventures of each of the seven members never to grace the cover of the comic that featured their series.
These are the only Mr. Terrific stories from the Forties that I’ve read and, biased as I am, I found them, and the portrayal of Sloane and Terrific, far better than I’d expected (though anything looks good when compared to the Atom). I’d love to read more.
Terrific’s Silver Age return was in that 1965 team-up, when he was a full member at last. There was nothing in the story to reveal how slim his history with the JSA was: as far as I, a new reader, was concerned, he was on a par with The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom and Doctor Fate – and given the impersonations, he was put on a level with Batman, which was heavy hitting.
But after that prestigious début, Mr. Terrific appeared in only four further team-ups, and nowhere else.
In 1967, he was fully part of the action. The following year, he made only a cameo appearance, among the ‘rest’ of the JSA who were apparently killed by the new Red Tornado operating one of T.O.Morrow’s ‘futurenergy’ guns. In 1972, in a three-parter that featured virtually everybody ever associated with the Justice League and Justice Society, Terrific was one of three heroes to arrive late and go on their own, peripheral mission. And in 1977, he was killed.
I put it as bluntly as that, because that’s as blunt as it was. The story was written by Gerry Conway as a ‘locked-room’ mystery set in the Justice League’s satellite HQ. Conway wanted a body, Mr. Terrific was a nobody that he didn’t give a toss about, and Conway killed him off without a cursory thought, not then or after. And to make matters worse, he let the killer escape and Terrific’s death went unavenged for almost twenty years.
To some extent, Conway was right. Mr. Terrific was an obscure, meaningless character. But even obscure, meaningless characters have their fans (and I am here to attest to that), and Terrific was a member of the very first superhero team. That alone conferred on him a status. If he had to be killed off, that alone demanded a story with some meaning, some closure. Instead, Conway wrote a shabby, demeaning, disgraceful, perfunctory affair from start to finish.
The event itself was clumsily foreshadowed (telegraphed) in the JSA story in Adventure 464, when Doctor Fate has to be dragged away from a spell he is constructing to save someone’s life: and out of nowhere, Mr. Terrific turns up, ready to join the meeting with the Justice League. Once there, he’s moody and silent, until he reveals that, in his job as Professor in English at Gateway University (?!?!?!), Sloane’s just seen his old (freshly-created) enemy, Roger Romaine, aka the Spirit King. Sloane couldn’t stop him then, but has been trailing Romaine ever since, even to this meeting.
The reaction of his colleagues? You could have left him to me (Jay Garrick, fellow-Spirit King foe), and, are you sure you didn’t imagine all of this? (Power Girl). Yes, that’s right, accusations of incompetence and senility, to Terrific’s face, at which he understandably bridles. But not for long because, next thing, a hole is blown in the Satellite, and his body is found in the wreckage. Strangled.
The two teams seal the satellite and the two best detectives, Batman of Earth-1 and The Huntress of Earth-2, lead an investigation that identifies The Flash – Jay Garrick – as the culprit. But no, actually it’s the Spirit King (shock, horror, didn’t see that coming) who’s got in by possessing Garrick and using him to lead Terrific aside. But, in order not to taint Garrick any further than has already been done, the Spirit King emerged from Flash’s body to strangle Terrific himself. If you have given any cursory thought to what the unpossessed Flash was doing all the time his old comrade was being murdered, you have given the issue more thought than Conway.
Who promptly has the Spirit King escape via the Transmatter Cube back to Earth-2 – the one exit none of the heroes had thought of, silly creatures. At least things end on a joke, because the heroes have actually triumphed, by proving that none of them did it. I mean, one of their mates is dead and the geezer wot dun it’s got away with it but, hey, we’re clean, ok?
Even without my personal attachment to Mr. Terrific, it’s pretty shabby stuff, the more mystifying in that, whilst Terrific was not the first Justice Society member to die, after the Earth-2 Batman, a mere six months earlier, he was still among the first to fall – and his death left an absence, unlike that of Batman.
Sadly, it took twenty years, and two complete Universe reboots (Crisis and Zero Hour) before anyone got around to avenging Mr. Terrific. The story was told in Ostrander and Mandrake’s The Spectre 54.
The Spectre, moving inexorably towards Corrigan’s renunciation of his long burden, intervenes to prevent a man from throwing himself off a bridge to his death. Michael Holt, an African-American, is an all-round genius and a former Olympic athlete, but he had recently lost his wife and young daughter in a random car crash, and found it too much to bear. The Spectre intervened to tell him the story of Terry Sloane, and at long last, of his the JSA pursued and defeated the Spirit King, with the intervention of Sloane’s spirit itself, with enough time to be given the respect due to him as a JSA member: as an equal.
Holt was no fool: he knew why the Spectre was telling him all this. And in search of purpose, like Terry Sloane before him, Holt became Mr. Terrific 2, intent on giving street kids a focus away from gangs, just like Sloane at the very beginning.
This purpose did not last long. The new Mr. Terrific appeared again in his street-clothes and shades ‘costume’ at Jim Corrigan’s ‘funeral’ in the last issue of the Spectre, but this was the last of the street level Terrific.
Holt would next appear in JSA 5, a cameo in what was virtually a solo story for Sand. He was dressed in an all new costume, of light blue and black, wearing a black T-mask bonded to his face by nanotechnology, and accompanied by a minimum of three T-spheres – remote controlled, multi-functional orbs, orbiting him. He was working security for Tyler Chemicals in issue 5 and, six months later, he joined the JSA, offstage, being brought in as a secret agent by Chairman Sand. Terrific proved to be so popular that, when a vote came on the Chairmanship, following some willy-waving between Sand and the newly-revived Hawkman, the membership elected Terrific, and he wasn’t even running!
As JSA Chairman, Holt proved a very capable leader. He was regularly referred to as the ‘Third Smartest man in the World’ (the top two have never been named but they’re probably Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor). He was a master of everything: Holt would describe himself as having ‘an aptitude for having aptitudes’. Indeed, his only weakness, and it was presented as a weakness, was his inability to believe in God or the afterlife: yes, Mr. Terrific 2 was an atheist. And everybody kept badgering him about it. But this is America: comics can stretch themselves to gay heroes, but non-God-fearin’ ones?
By Infinite Crisis, Mr Terrific 2’s status had risen so high that he took over the secret agency Checkmate as its Black King, a position he maintained alongside his ongoing Justice Society membership, and come the New 52, he was one of only two Justice Society members to carry over into a Universe in which there had never been a Justice Society.
Oddly enough, from the time that Michael Holt first appeared, the Terry Sloane Mr. Terrific has suddenly been accorded all the respect and stature his fan(s) could wish, even though he’s been dead thirty years plus by now.
The process started in the Justice Society Returns Fifth Week Event that preceded the new JSA series. The overall story ran for three weeks, devised as a giant issue of All-Star. The Justice Society as a whole joined together in All-Star 1 and 2 (nice touch), published in weeks 1 and 3 , whilst in week 2, the team split up into seven pairs to fight individual aspects of the problem (a mad God trying to destroy the Earth in March 1945, if you’re asking).
Mr. Terrific’s role is interesting to observe. In All-Star 1, he’s brought in, alongside Wildcat, as a JSA Reservist, though his only contribution is the stereotypical (and rather bone-headed) cry of “Fair and Square”. By issue 2, he’s the hero who, single-handedly, puts the mad God’s terrifying-machine-to-destroy-the-world out of commission.
What happened between was Mark Waid writing a team-up between Mr. Terrific and The Flash (Jay Garrick). It’s set in Dresden, as the two heroes set about saving people from bombing, whilst pursuing and defeating their enemy. This gives Garrick the chance to assess Sloane and what drives him, and to picture him as a very talented man, driven by a deep sense of fairness, and a desire that everyone should have the best possible chances. Together with Sloane’s all-round break-through genius, and two time-travelling meetings with Michael Holt in JSA, Mr. Terrific’s reputation now stood higher than it had ever been. Far too late, mind you: after all, he was dead.
Post New 52, Mr Terrific 2 gained a solo series for the first time ever, although it only lasted eight issues, and was one of the first wave of New 52 series to be cancelled. Since then, Michael Holt has found himself crossed over to the new Earth-2, where he’s to play a part in the new Justice Society. Meanwhile, Terry Sloan (no ‘E’) has been introduced, but this time he’s a bad guy, a former supervillain. I hardly think I need disclose my opinion on that.
Wonder Woman marks another problem. For one, there is her anomalous status within the Forties Justice Society of America: a guest in All-Star 11, taken on as secretary in issue 12 and, two early adventures aside, a permanent onlooker, frequently appearing in only a single panel, for years. Even when the Amazing Amazon finally started getting into the act properly, in All-Star 40, there was never any time when she was granted membership.
The bigger issue is that Wonder Woman was one of the Big Three, the Trinity, the three archetypal heroes for whom there was no break, no discontinuity, but continuous publication that spanned the Golden and Silver Ages, that spanned Earths 1 and 2, before and after they were created. Wonder Woman is one of the unchanging ones, the primal three who, no matter what twists and turns and occasional changes will be made, will always be the one version.
A decade ago I wrote an unpublished essay, poking fun at the convoluted state of affairs that had come into being, whereby there had been a total of five Wonder Womans at that point, but of which three of them had been Princess Diana (errr…) of the Amazons.
I’m tempted to copy and paste it here, although any updating of it would now have to recognise seven Wonder Womans, five of them Diana. But it’s not of a piece with this series, so I will deal with the character in a straightforward manner, though in rather less depth than usual.
Whatever her standing as a Forties member, Wonder Woman is indelibly linked with the JSA, having made her first appearance in All-Star 8, in an unrelated bonus story. She was created by psychologist William Moulton Marston, under his pen-name Charles Moulton, and drawn by artist Harry G. Peter, Marston’s personal choice (over the objections of Charlie Gaines at All-American), although Peter’s contract did not allow him to claim any creative aspect.
Marston, who had already played a large role in creating the Lie Detector Test, was a free-thinker who espoused the principles of free love and of bondage/submission as a cure for human violence (a course he advocated freely through his creation: those old Wonder Woman stories are seriously weird-in-a-not-good way). Wonder Woman came about in part due to the early backlash about comics, their violence and their overall suitability for kids.
Marston advised All-American that they needed a female superhero, to introduce loving authority into their comics. Gaines invited him to create such a character, and agreed a deal whereby Marston retained a proprietary interest in the Amazon: should All-American/National/DC fail to publish her for one month, the rights would revert to Marston or his heirs. Marston originally named his creation Suprema, but Sheldon Mayer replaced it with Wonder Woman.
Marston created his character out of myth. The Amazons, under their Queen, Hyppolita, had retreated from the world to hidden Amazon Island, where they lived in peace and were perfect specimens of womanhood. Hyppolita, a beautiful blonde, longed for a child: the Gods instructed her to form a baby from the clay of the riverbank, into which they breathed life, creating Diana, the best Amazon ever.
In 1941, an American plane, containing Colonel Steve Trevor, crashed through the barriers surrounding Amazon Island. Diana saw, and fell irreversibly in love with, the first man she saw. After learning of the War in Man’s World, Hyppolita decided to send an Amazon representative there, to spread peace. She organised a competition to find a worthy winner, but forbade Diana to take part. Diana entered wearing a mask (that would have fooled no-one) and won. Reluctantly, Hyppolita gave way and allowed her daughter to don the special costume that had been made for the winner – coincidentally consisting of a bustier red top decorated by the American Eagle and blue culottes, decorated with silver stars, just like the American flag.
Diana then ventured into Man’s World with Col. Trevor. Almost immediately, she met Army Nurse Diana Prince, who was identical to her and who was crying because she couldn’t get to the West Coast to be with her fiancé. So Diana gave her the money and took Miss Prince’s ID, to be near her beloved Steve.
The following week, Wonder Woman’s regular series started in the first issue of All-American’s new anthology title, Sensation Comics. Sheldon Mayer had her added to the next JSA story in preparation, in which the JSA disbanded to go to War and Wonder Woman subbed for the Spectre, and invited the kids to vote on her as the Justice Society’s first girl member.
Before the votes came in, narrowly in favour, Gaines had decided that Wonder Woman was big enough to get her own title – faster than anyone before her – which debarred her from membership. So, rather than have her elected directly to Honorary Membership, which would have been silly, Mayer added her as Secretary, which was merely demeaning.
As I’ve already said, it took until All-Star 40 to get Wonder Woman into the action regularly, and by the JSA’s final appearance in issue 57, she was the only member appearing anywhere else, in her solo title, Sensation having bitten the dust as well by then.
Wonder Woman stayed in publication throughout the Fifties. After Marston’s death in 1947, the series was taken over by Robert Kanigher, who softened the bondage elements and, indeed, trivialised the series out of all recognition. I’ve recently had the experience of reading Kanigher’s last two years of work on the title which, according to all I’ve heard, is of a kind with what he’d been doing for years, and it’s underpinned by what I can only describe as utter contempt, for the character and the reader alike. Hardly surprising that, for decades, the series sold terribly, being kept alive by the reversion deal that would have cost National all its lucrative licensing rights.
At some, unidentifiable, point, the series stopped being about Wonder Woman 1, of Earth-2 and became that of Wonder Woman 2, of Earth-1 (see, it’s starting to get crazy already). Wonder Woman 2 was a founder member of the Justice League of America in Brave & Bold 27, and a regular in the series until 1969.
The two versions of Wonder Woman were identical up to that time. The Earth-2 Wonder Woman didn’t appear in any team-ups with the Justice League until 1967, and tended not to appear very often, because no-one could tell the difference, except during the period from 1969 to 1972 when, under Mike Sekowsky’s editorship, the Earth-1 Wonder Woman lost her powers, pulled her hair back into a pony-tail, dressed in white jacket and trousers and took on crime as a Diana Rigg/Emma Peel figure.
When this version failed, Wonder Woman regained her powers but had to undergo a twelve-issue Labours of Diana trial, each supervised by a different JLA member before the League would take her back. Then the series switched to World War 2 and the Golden Age Wonder Woman for a few years, until the success of the TV series and Lynda Carter jumped it back to the present day. In any guise, it continued to flounder.
In the Eighties, her costume, which had undergone periodic minor changes – culottes to tight shorts, boots to laced Grecian sandals, shorts to cycle shorts, back to boots, cycle shorts to swimsuit bottoms – underwent a major and permanent change at the request of a major women’s foundation, with the American Eagle replaced by a stylised WW logo across the most famous breasts in comicdom.
Also, Roy Thomas brought the Golden Age Wonder Woman up to date in Infinity, Inc, showing her as older, married to Steve Trevor, and with a teenage daughter, Lyta, who became the superheroine The Fury.
However, both these Wonder Womans were swept aside in Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Earth-2 version being elevated to Godhood, together with her Steve Trevor, as part of the Greek Pantheon, and the Earth-1 version having her chronal pathway reversed, all the way back to the clay of the riverbed.
So, from two all-but identical Wonder Womans, we were down to none. Like the rest of the Trinity, DC were set on a total reboot for Wonder Woman, this time by plotter/artist George Perez. Perez retained the shape of Wonder Woman’s origin but produced a stronger mythic bedrock: Amazon Island became Themiscyra, Hyppolita black-haired not blonde, the Amazons were now the reincarnation of women murdered in hate by men, and Diana was the soul of the child of the only one (Hyppolita) who died pregnant.
Steve Trevor was reimagined as a man in his early Fifties, removing at a stroke the romantic entanglement that had been so hideously and embarrassingly used for so many decades (especially by Kanigher). Diana entered Men’s World as an innocent, with no need of a secret identity, as an Ambassador of Peace.
Wonder Woman 3 (still Diana, although in context, the first Diana of one) was of a different order to her predecessors. The series became a top-seller for the first time since the Forties, and deservedly so.
The removal of a Forties Wonder Woman from continuity left the JSA without a secretary. By a retcon, strongwoman Miss America was eased into that role and all those adventures, though very few stories were told, or retold, with her in that role. It would be superseded in the late Nineties by another, more pertinent retcon.
The new Wonder Woman briefly joined Justice League Europe but tended to go her own way, not returning to a Justice League role until the 1997 reboot. Before this, there were a couple of changes.
After Perez, Bill Messner-Loebs took over as Wonder Woman writer. For issue 0, he had Diana back on Themiscyra whilst Hyppolita re-enacted the contest to be Wonder Woman, only for Diana to be beaten this time by Artemis, a fierce fighter from a more warrior-like strain of Amazons. Artemis went out in Men’s World in the Wonder Woman costume (Wonder Woman 4). She was a full-figured woman with a spectacularly long red ponytail and impossibly long legs (a product of the prevalent artistic ‘styles’).
However, Diana did not take her demotion lying down, and returned herself to Man’s World, without powers, this time dressed in dark blue: jacket, bra and cycle-shorts.
As Wonder Woman 0 followed issue 93, the imminent arrival of the anniversarial 100 suggested Artemis would not be a long-term character, and she duly died in battle in that issue, allowing Diana to resume her rightful role.
Surprisingly, not for long. Incoming writer/artist John Byrne was quick to kill Diana – who was translated to the Greek Pantheon. This time she was replaced by Queen Hyppolita, acting out of guilt over her role in Diana’s death. In honour of her senior status, the Queen’s dignity was preserved by her wearing a star-spangled, but still abbreviated skirt instead of the bathing suit bottom.
Wonder Woman 5 did not last long either (Diana proved to be very unsuited to be a Goddess and wanted back), but did last long enough to go back in time to the Forties with Jay (Flash) Garrick to help him resolve a newly-recollected matter. Jay returned almost immediately, but Hyppolita stayed on an extra half-hour, during which she lived Wonder Woman’s entire Forties career as it had originally happened – bye bye Miss America(n pie) – and set the temporal record on its head.
Though Wonder Woman 5, Hyppolita thus became Wonder Woman 1 (in post-Crisis continuity) as well as Wonder Woman 3 in DC history, whilst Diana now turned out to have been named Wonder Woman due to memories of the Forties career her mother had whilst continuing Diana’s career. Don’t worry, it all makes sense to comics’ fans.
I’m going to draw a veil over the following decade of Wonder Woman’s career, in which changes have occurred (including a radical change of costume that everybody knew was never going to last). But post New 52, we have yet another Wonder Woman, who is yet again a variation on Diana, who we may as well call Wonder Woman 6, and a quickly-killed alternate Diana/Wonder Woman (7) in Earth-2.
There is obviously far more to write about the legacy of Wonder Woman but, excepting those two brief interpolations of Artemis and Hyppolita, neither of whom were ever more than just interpolations, it is one woman and one character’s story. There is no real legacy to be discussed here, any more than there is for Superman or Batman.
Dr Mid-Nite was created by writer Charles Reizenstein and artist Stan Aschmeier (Stan Asch or Stan Josephs) and made his début in All-American Comics 25. The Doctor was a Doctor in real-life, prominent surgeon Charles McNider, who was called in to operate on a witness against mobsters, who had been shot. However, a gang member threw a grenade into the operating theatre, which killed the witness and blinded McNider.
Unable to continue his profession, McNider decided to become a crusading anti-crime columnist, with the assistance of his secretary, Myra Mason. However, whilst sat alone one night, brooding, McNider was disturbed by something entering his rooms and causing havoc. Instinctively ripping off his bandages, McNider discovered that he was actually able to see in conditions of blackness, much like the owl that had accidentally flown in his window. He decided to keep his newfound ability to himself and, after producing a pair of dark lenses that enabled him to see in the light, McNider chose to go out and fight crime, under the pseudonym of Doctor Mid-Nite. He named the owl Hooty and adopted it as his mascot.
The spelling of the good Doctor’s name has been queried but there is no settled explanation of it. The best suggestion is that Mid-Nite’s creation came in the wake of the widely-known radio serial featuring Captain Midnight, hence the different spelling to avoid accusations of copying.
Doc’s costume consisted of a black headcowl, incorporating the black lens goggles, green cape, black long-sleeved top under a red jerkin fastened by half-moon crescents, and brown gauntlets and boots. Although Marvel’s Daredevil became famous, twenty years later, as a prominent superhero who was blind, Doctor Mid-Nite was the first superhero to feature a physical disability.
When Green Lantern left the Justice Society on being granted his own title, Doctor Mid-Nite replaced him, in All-Star 8. Doc appeared in the issue as a guest star, seeking the JSA’s assistance to track down the missing Professor Able. Meanwhile, the JSA are all faced with suspects who have suddenly gone mad under interrogation: each turn out to be victims of a new drug, developed by criminal genius Elba (do not pre-empt the drama by reading Elba’s name backwards). Johnny Thunder gets into trouble and summons the rest of the JSA, but Elba locks himself into a lightless room, causing the JSA to have to call upon Doctor Mid-Nite, who goes in alone and defeats the villain, exposing him as being, shock, horror, Professor Able. The Doctor is offered membership for his efforts.
Mid-Nite remained with the JSA until their final adventure in All-Star 57, putting him third in the overall list of appearances, and his solo series lasted until 1948, when All-American was converted to a Western title after issue 102. Apart from his ability to see in the dark, the Doc carried with him a number of ‘blackout bombs’, little devices that, when thrown down, generated clouds of impenetrable black smoke, in which the criminals couldn’t see, but the Doctor could.
He returned to action in the second JLA/JSA team-up, in 1964, and two years later produced an upgraded weapon, in the form of the Cyrotuber, a multi-barrel gun which used adaptations of modern operation techniques – sonics, cryogenics, lasers – for offensive purposes.
Though Mid-Nite was, improbably, considered for a team-up with the all-powerful Spectre, outside of his JSA appearances, his only other exposure was in occasional guest slots in The Flash, where he became Flash 2’s other-dimensional doctor for things that Barry Allen couldn’t take to anyone in Central City.
Indeed, increasingly McNider’s career focussed on his medical abilities rather than his superpower (which, as he aged, began to slowly fail him). He was included in the first half of the Seventies All-Star revival, but gently eased out during the run, and did not reappear until the early Eighties when he moved to Los Angeles to become, in effect, the private physician to Infinity, Inc.
In that respect McNider took on an intern, in African-American Beth Chapel. With the Crisis looming, and his proposal to retain Earth-2 finally rejected, Doctor Mid-Nite was one of the JSA heroes that Roy Thomas rapidly chose to re-create. Simultaneously with Rick Tyler’s first use of Hourman’s Miraclo, Beth Chapel was caught in an oxygen blast that blinded her, only to find she too was perfectly sighted in the dark. Chapel chose to become the second Doctor Midnight (note spelling).
As Doctor Midnight, Chapel wore a radically different (and completely crappy) costume made for her by her mother. Chapel applied to join Infinity, Inc, but was not accepted until very close to the end of that series. She and Rick Tyler also started a relationship, much against Rex Tyler’s approval.
But Chapel did not last long in the part. After Crisis, she and the new, female, Wildcat were part of a team sent to the Caribbean to bring down Eclipso. It was a total disaster and everyone was killed, which demonstrated the only point of the exercise: cheap outrage and the disposal of another bunch of unwanted characters. The Creeper was subsequently resurrected, mesdames Midnight and Wildcat were never seen again.
The onus came back onto Charles McNider who, at the time, was in limbo with the Justice Society and, although an active member of the 1950 JSA, he was excluded from their mini-series. Mid-Nite did play an active role in the open-ended series: at first concentrating on his role as a physician at a free clinic in New Orleans, with another African-American female intern (who thankfully did not follow Beth Chapel into a horrible costume). But the death of an old favourite Jazz musician had McNider bringing the revived JSA into what became a battle against their old foe the Ultra-Humanite, and Mid-Nite stayed with the team for the rest of the short run.
The highlight of his performance was getting Jesse Chambers to try an old (and acknowledgedly sexist) trick to distract a guard by pulling down the zip of her running top!
McNider’s final appearance, like many others, came in Zero Hour. Like Hourman, he attacked the Extant and, in the same manner, had his ageing accelerated. Sandman, another victim, was saved in hospital, but Doctor Mid-Nite died on the operating table.
Though McNider was dead, his presence was the subject of much fan debate on-line, on the subject of whether Charles McNider may have been gay.
The debate was furious at times, not only from those who wished to defend their favourite old character but, frankly, from the bigoted who would not countenance the idea that a superhero might be gay, or why anyone would ever want a superhero to be gay? Their most ‘objective’ argument was that Doctor Mid-Nite couldn’t have been gay because being homosexual was against the law.
Those proposing this radical departure pointed to a number of elements in the original stories. Unlike every other JSA member, McNider had never demonstrated any actual interest in the opposite sex, not even the fair Myra Mason, who was his constant and devoted companion for the best part of a decade. Indeed, McNider had often been snide and dismissive towards Myra, a kind of anti-female contempt that the proponents suggested were coded messages that those who were meant to understand could read – a necessity for the repressed homosexual community.
Interestingly, James Robinson’s Starman series would reinterpret the JSA adventure where the boys’ places are taken by their girl-friends. Robinson’s version excluded female Atoms and Doctor Mid-Nite’s, and as an amusing nod, has Mid-Nite reacting in horror to Wonder Woman’s mere suggestion.
However, since the turn of the century, retrospective stories have been assiduous to establish that, actually, McNider worshipped Myra Mason but kept his feelings for her secret so as not to endanger her, not that that prevented her from being murdered in the end by one of Doctor Mid-Nite’s (retrospectively created) enemies. (Such stories also tend to portray McNider as something of an effete snob, by the way).
My take on this is that, whilst I don’t believe that Mid-Nite’s stories contained any coded messages, had DC wished to make a stance by bringing one of the longer-lasting characters out as gay – which would have been a tremendous gesture – McNider was ideally positioned for this to be done without the least violation of anything already established about him. I also think that someone felt very uncomfortable about the idea, which is why they moved to stifle that possibility. Which eventually came true with the reorientation of Alan Scott in Earth-2.
Independent writer/artist Matt Wagner – noted for his creations Mage and Grendel, and of course Sandman Mystery Theatre – had long been interested in Doctor Mid-Nite and, in 1999, he created a three-issue Prestige mini-series, reviving the character in his new form, as a much darker figure.
Doctor Mid-Nite 3 was Norwegian-born Doctor Pieter Cross, a radical physician who had established a free clinic in Portsmouth, in Washington State, where there was a severe drug-smuggling problem. Cross used street characters he’d saved in an anti-drugs organisation but, having fallen foul of the drugs bosses, he was kidnapped, injected with an experimental drug they were peddling, made drunk and sent away in a high-powered sports car. Before he could regain control, Cross crashed, killing another driver. Cross had his physician’s licence removed. He also lost his sight.
Whilst brooding on his situation, Cross discovered that the drugs in his system had left him able to see in the dark. Aware of the past existence of Doctor Mid-Nite, Cross decided to exploit his ‘gift’ by taking up the vacant identity. There was no connection to McNider in Wagner’s original story, but subsequent writers have obsessively added details such as Cross having interned under McNider, and then having been delivered by him in emergency conditions. It often appears that the world of superheroes has to be rendered incestuous in its connections: anything less is simply insufficiently ‘real’.
The new Doctor Mid-Nite has not appeared in any other solo stories since Wagner’s series, but was added to the revived Justice Society in (nice touch) JSA 8. He wears a near identical costume to McNider, the principal difference being that the red jerkin has a groin-guard extension. He’s been a regular ever since, in both JSA and Justice Society of America, where he has formed a partnership with the new Mr. Terrific as the two smartest guys in the team. However, like McNider before him, Cross is more physician than superhero, and his participation in the action is strictly limited. It is he who performs the autopsy on Sue Dibny’s body in Identity Crisis and whose identification of the cause of death leads to the unmasking of the unexpected killer.
Doctor Mid-Nite 3 was a character of potential, almost none of which was realised. According to Batman, the drugs affected his sight in far-reaching ways that Cross had not yet begun to suspect, though this was never expanded upon. Indeed, at one point Cross had his sight magically restored, only to discover that the loss of his other vision was crippling, and he was actually glad to have his blindness restored.
Since then, the New 52 has intervened and all the above is meaningless. No Doctor Mid-Nite has appeared as yet. Given the general lack of any real idea of what to do with one over the last fifty years, it may be wise to hold back on creating another.
And so to Starman. The Man of the Stars is an interesting case for a number of reasons. Firstly, although the character has only ever been a commercial success in the James Robinson series that ran from 1994 – 2001, Starman has had more incarnations that any other JSA members: depending on exactly how you count them, he is the only one to be in double figures.
Secondly, there are two ways in which to approach Starman’s history. The first is the traditional, chronological account of the different characters and the ad hoc, haphazard manner in which they were developed over the decades.
The second recognises that Robinson’s series, as one of its central elements, codified all the Starman characters into a cohesive Mythos, which, amongst many other things, made profound changes to the numbering that would be assigned by the chronology.
In light of this, I’m going to compromise by giving a streamlined account of events chronologically, without using the usual numbering, before describing Robinson’s series in rather more detail than usual, in order to draw out the Mythos, and record the now ‘official’ order of the incarnations.
By whatever count, the first Starman remains the same: socialite and astronomer Ted Knight, who discovered cosmic energy emanating from the stars and built the fabled Gravity Rod – a gold, sceptre-length cylinder – to collect, store and use those energies to fight crime. The Gravity Rod enabled Starman to fly, and to create blasts or shields of light or heat.
Starman is often credited as being another creation of Gardner Fox, who wrote his stories in Adventure Comics from issue 61, but in truth the character was designed by a committee of editors at Detective Comics, and drawn by Jack Burnley, one of the most sophisticated artists in comics in the Forties.
Now committees are usually (and rightly) traduced when it comes to creativity (A camel, etc.) but in this instance they did a decent job. Indeed, Detective Comics, as I’ve already said, believed they were onto a winner to compare with Superman and Batman, and to promote Starman as quickly as possible, they insisted on his inclusion in the Justice Society of America, at the expense of Hourman.
Starman made his début alongside Doctor Mid-Nite in All-Star 8, in an adventure informally known as “Two new members earn their spurs”. It’s an odd situation: Starman is already a member as a result of unknown events between issues, whilst the Doc operates as a guest until virtually the final page, when he’s invited into membership. Mid-Nite spends his whole time interacting with the JSA whilst Starman, apart from his solo chapter, hangs about, silent and solemn, exchanging not a word with his existing team-mates.
He remained with the JSA until All-Star 23, when he and The Spectre became legally unavailable following the All-American divide. He continued, in phantom form, in issues 25, 26 and 30, each of which had been drawn before the split, and which were made publishable by pasting Green Lantern figures on top of Starman, except in the famous two panels where the Lantern uses Starman’s Gravity Rod. By the last of these, All-American and Detective had merged to form National Comics, making Starman available again legally. But his solo series had been cancelled with Adventure 102.
In passing, let us note that a new Starman, dressed in orange and grey, appeared in a Batman story in 1957, and was revealed to be Bruce Wayne, devising a new identity to enable him to continue his war on crime whilst affected by a temporary phobia about bats.
Starman remained in limbo until the second JLA/JSA team-up, in 1964 when, in a nice nod to the past, he was reintroduced alongside Dr Mid-Nite. In retirement, Ted Knight had improved and upgraded his Gravity Rod until it was renamed the Cosmic Rod. This had an even wider range of applications, so much so that it was, effectively, a scientific equivalent of Green Lantern 1’s power ring. Starman made his appearances in various team-ups, but was more-or-less excluded from the All-Star revival: there was nothing he could do that Green Lantern could not, and the Lantern was the bigger character.
Indeed, Starman’s absence was alibied by his being laid up with a broken leg, following an undisclosed fracas with an unseen villain called The British Bat (I say, what?, Dashed bad form.) Insult was then added to injury by having the Cosmic Rod loaned to the Star-Spangled Kid, a Forties teenager drawn into the future, who subsequently ‘improved’ the Cosmic Rod into a hands-free Cosmic Converter Belt. Not a lot of respect for Starman being shown there, overall.
The All-Star revival was book-ended by the first two attempts to revitalise the franchise. The second Starman made a single appearance in First Issue Special 12 (the penultimate issue of the series). He was blue-skinned, red-haired alien Mikaal Tomas, part of an invasion force based on the dark side of the Moon. Tomas was supposed to lead the infiltration, and was given a crystal that he hung round his neck which he used to fire energy bursts. However, Tomas’s pacifist girlfriend influenced him to turn against his race and dedicate his powers to defending Earth. There was no second appearance.
The third Starman followed literally in the footsteps of the JSA revival, which ended in Adventure 466, immediately after which the series was slimmed down to a standard 32 page comic, with the newest Starman as one of its two leads.
This version was written by Paul Levitz and drawn by the legendary Steve Ditko. Prince Gavyn was an effete, lazy fop, one of two heirs to a galactic empire. Gavyn anticipated inheriting the throne and reversing the tradition that demanded unused heirs all be killed, by sparing his sister. Instead, she inherited and he was thrown out of an airlock. He was rescued by an alien named M’ntorr, who invested him with cosmic power (which he directed through a wooden staff). Disguising himself as Starman, Gavyn aided the Empire, eventually taking over when his sister was assassinated. He was one of the many unwanted characters killed off in Crisis on Infinite Earths, swallowed by the wall of anti-matter as he attempted to save Throneworld.
Meanwhile, Roy Thomas addressed himself to those old discrepancies from the Forties, first painting Starman 1 as a brash, self-confident man who wanted to join the Justice Society, followed Hourman for the chance of meeting the team and found himself pulling the latter’s fat out of the fire when he first began to suffer side-effects from Miraclo. Hourman subsequently took leave of absence and nominated Starman to succeed him.
As for his JSA retirement, this was explained by marriage to an unnamed woman who made him promise to give up his Starman identity, a promise he kept until her death, shortly before Justice League of America 27.
Post-Crisis, the death of Prince Gavyn cleared the ground for the fourth Starman, the first to get his own series, in 1988. Roger Stern and Tom Lyle created Will Payton, a long-haired Arizonan who, while out trekking in the mountains, was transformed by a blast of cosmic energy deflected to Earth by an orbiting satellite. In keeping with the growing lack of imagination about new heroes’ powers, Payton found himself able to fly and shoot power blasts from his hands.
The series, which was bland and unexceptional, ran for 41 issues, ending in 1992, with Payton losing his life whilst taking down Eclipso at the climax of that year’s cross-over series, Eclipso: the Darkness Within.
The most interesting story in the series was the two-parter in issues 26-27, which introduced David Knight. David was the son of Ted Knight who, after his father’s disappearance, had bummed around Europe for some years before returning, along with personal trainer Andy ‘Murph’ Murphy to take up his father’s identity. David was angered to find Payton using the Starman name and challenged him over it. Payton, who’d never even heard of a prior Starman was happy to surrender the name, but David, under the mental influence of Murph, launched into a fight, during which Murph – who was actually the original Starman’s arch-enemy, the Mist, in disguise – was able to siphon off enough energy to change himself into a weather formation calling itself Nimbus.
Naturally, Payton and Knight teamed up (with Payton as the smarter one) to combat and eventually defeat Nimbus/The Mist, during which David Knight broke his Star Sceptre (as Stern has, unnecessarily and idiotically, renamed the Cosmic Rod). David Knight slunk off.
Thankfully, this was almost immediately followed by the original Starman’s return from limbo. Ted Knight had been a surprise element in the mini-series, albeit as an injured figure, wheelchair bound after an assault by Vandal Savage. By the end, Ted had recovered his strength and was talking about rejoining the JSA, though their disbandment in front of HUAC frustrates this.
In the subsequent series, Starman didn’t make an appearance until the final issue, bringing the power of science to defeat the magics of Kulak. And in due course, Ted Knight was aged in Zero Hour until he could no longer continue as Starman.
This was planned to lead in to the new Starman series, by James Robinson and Tony Harris: Ted hands his Cosmic Rod over to his elder son, David, whilst his hitherto unrevealed younger son Jack is glad it isn’t him.
Which is where we turn to the consciously developed Starman Mythos.
Ted Knight, father of David and Jack, is the original Starman, protector of the art deco paradise that is Opal City. Starman has had a long career, though dogged with interruptions, but he has always remained in favour, even during the years when the Justice Society were forced into retirement by HUAC.
In the late Thirties, Ted discovered cosmic radiation emanating from the stars and built the first Gravity Rod. After discovering that his cousin Sandra had begun going out in costume as the Phantom Lady, Ted became Starman, for no other reason than that it seemed right to use his powers to stop crime. He created a costume of a red helmet topped by a green fin, red long-sleeved top and leggings, green trunks and boots.
Ted quickly found friends in the Opal Police: Inspector ‘Red’ Bailey, who would go on to become Police commissioner, and Patrolman Billy O’Dare, who would father a quintet of red-headed cops to follow him. Ted also worked with FBI Agent Woodley Allen and, privately, dated his niece, Doris Lee. To conceal his identity, Ted would pretend to be a bored hypochondriac.
He joined the Justice Society in 1941, staying with it till the War’s end. A scientific rationalist, he did not accept that his team-mates Doctor Fate and the Spectre used magic, but an encounter with Etrigan the Demon in 1944 cracked his certainty. Ted subsequently resigned when he began to be troubled by the role he had played in helping Einstein with work that contributed to the development of the Atom Bomb. Ted suffered a series of nervous breakdowns in his guilt.
The worst of these occurred early in 1951 when, shortly after discovering his secret identity, Doris Lee was murdered. With Opal left unprotected, the Starman of 1951 (Starman 2) took up Ted’s role, wearing a completely different costume so as not to affect Ted’s recovery.
Starman 2 is actually Ted’s former JSA colleague Charles McNider, aka Doctor Mid-Nite. With the assistance of a number of minor heroes in constructing technology, McNider keeps the peace until October 1951, when an incident in his home city calls him away. His place is taken by another figure, whose identity I’ll hold back for now (Starman 3), who takes over until New Year’s Day 1952, when he abruptly disappears. Starman 3’s last adventure is in collaboration with Hourman and a time-travelling Jack Knight. The case spurs Ted back into action when he spots a clue everyone else has overlooked.
Ted resumes his career. Jack persuades him to go to a New Year’s Party where, unknown to Jack, he will meet Adele Doris Drew on her intended final day in Opal: Adele is Ted’s future wife and the mother of David and Jack.
Though the Starman of 1951 is still a public mystery in Jack’s time, Ted has hinted that he knows more than he’s ever let on: before leaving 1951 with the aid of Starman 9, Jack writes an account of everything that he leaves in one of Ted’s books, for him to find, if he ever does.
(This adventure comes right at the end of Jack’s career as Starman 8: in his era, no-one knows that the Starman of 1951 was actually two different people.)
Ted continues his career during the Fifties and into the Sixties. He teams up with Black Canary for a short series of cases. Their teamwork spills over into a brief but passionate affair, which the two decide to end, being in love with their spouses. The timing is fortuitous: the next day, Ted learns Adele is pregnant with David.
Four years later, Jack is born, but when he is very young, Adele falls ill and, after several years in hospitals and sanitoria, she dies whilst he is still a child. Ted is left to bring up both boys himself.
It is not an easy job. Ted’s duties to his science and to Starman mean the boys are frequently left alone. They are chalk and cheese, and though Jack starts off by hero-worshipping his father, he gradually rebels against Starman. His interests lie in the past, in Collectables. He is frequently openly contemptuous of superheroes.
Sylvester Pemberton Jr, the original Star-Spangled Kid, becomes almost a surrogate son to Ted who, at one point, asks Sly to take his role as Starman. Sly considers it but, recognising that there is more to Jack than meets the eye, and believing that he will, one day, justify his father’s wish to be proud of him, declines. He takes the name Skyman himself, but is killed in action not long after.
Meanwhile, Mikaal Tomas comes to the moon as part of the planned invasion force. He turns against them, ready to defend earth, but no threat materialised. Some people call him Starman (Starman 4). In search of thrills and sensation, he enters the mid-Seventies disco scene, indulging in drugs and casual sex. Eventually, he finds the last member of his race pursuing him: the invasion was called off when their home planet was invaded itself. His fellow wants revenge on Tomas and the two duel. Tomas is the winner, but finds his crystal now seared into his flesh.
Hearing of another Starman, Tomas drifts to Opal City, but before he can get himself together enough to contact Ted, he is kidnapped and drugged. He spends the next twenty five years or so circulating among a group of extremely rich superhero fetishists.
Meanwhile, in space, Prince Gavyn (Starman 5) has his career as previously recorded, and dies in the Crisis. Ted follows the Justice Society into their final adventure and ends up in limbo. Officially he is regarded as dead, though Jack retains the belief that his father remains alive during that period.
Whilst Ted is in limbo, Will Payton gains powers and is called Starman (Starman 6) in the press. Ted’s son David, under the influence of The Mist, challenges him for the right to the name, but finds himself outsmarted and his Cosmic Rod destroyed. David gives way with seeming good grace. Payton does visit Opal City on one occasion, but dies in battle fighting Eclipso.
Ted returns from limbo with the JSA, having received another ‘booster’ against ageing, but this and his other rejuvenations are removed by the Extant in Zero Hour. Though Ted retains more vitality than others of his old colleagues, he recognises that he can no longer act as Starman and hands his Cosmic Rod and costume on to his elder son, David (Starman 7).
Jack is still derisive of the ‘family business’, and is openly contemptuous of his brother in their last meeting, a few days into David’s career, just before he heads out on patrol. An hour later, David Knight is shot and killed.
This heralds a crime spree in Opal, organised by Ted’s arch-enemy, The Mist. His son, Kyle, kills David and fails to kill Jack: his daughter Nash destroys Ted’s observatory and incapacitates Ted. Jack, the only survivor, is forced to play Starman until the last Cosmic Rod is broken. However, though Ted gives him leave to flee, to save himself, Jack refuses to go. He is equipped with the original Cosmic Rod prototype, from 1950, which is quarterstaff length, instead of sceptre-sized, and is surprised to find an affinity with it. Kyle dies in battle with Jack, The Mist slips into senility and Nash, a shy, stuttering girl who had allowed Jack to escape out of pity, swears to become the new Mist and get vengeance on him.
Jack agrees to become Starman, on a number of conditions: he won’t wear the costume, he won’t patrol and Ted must now use his science to put cosmic energy to humanity’s benefit, instead of heroing. Ted readily agrees: he is aware Jack intends to ‘cheat’ by not looking for action, but knows that the ‘life’ will find him. Jack becomes Starman 8.
Immediately, he finds himself negotiating an uneasy alliance with the immortal villain The Shade, a manipulator of shadow stuff who, it transpires, is an Opal resident, loves the city and refuses to commit crime here. The Shade believes Jack may be the hero Opal is waiting for.
Whilst looking for Collectibles in Turk County, Jack happens on a circus at which Mikaal Tomas is being used as a Freak. The circus is run by Bliss, an incubus who is feeding off the fear and hatred of all his Freaks. When Jack fights him, Mikaal – who is unable to speak English – assists him in defeating Bliss. Subsequently, Mikaal will lose his powers is defending Solomon Grundy: he regains his ability to speak English but not his memories. These are not revealed until later.
This happens during another crime-wave, this one organised by Nash, the new Mist, now very self-confident. Nash kidnaps and drugs Jack and, whilst he is unconscious, she rapes him and impregnates herself.
Angry that Nash has compared herself to him, Jack tries to do something she wouldn’t do by finding her father’s missing medal. This leads to an adventure with Wesley (Sandman) Dodds in New York, which has far-reaching implications for both Jack and Dodds later on.
Slowly, Jack finds himself adjusting to the life of the superhero, though he maintains his unorthodox approach to it. Every year, by means he doesn’t understand, Jack has a meeting with his dead brother David, at which time David tries to assist Jack in preparing for future events.
Jack’s growing relationship with his girlfriend, Sadie Falk, is threatened by her revelation that her real name is Jane Sadie Payton. She is Will Payton’s sister and believes him to still be alive. Because he loves her, Jack agrees to go into space to try to find Payton. Mikaal joins him, hoping to refind himself.
In space, Jack and Mikaal are bounced forwards and backwards in time. In the Thirtieth Century, they encounter Star Boy (aka Thom Kallor) of the Legion of Superheroes and assist him in dispersing a planet-spanning field of shadow that is found to be the result of the Shade’s powers gone haywire. The Shade reveals to Kallor that he is destined to go to the 2st Century, after Jack has ended his career, and become Starman under the name of Danny Blaine, one of the most famous Starmen in history. Kallor knows every detail of Danny Blaine’s life, including when, and how, he will die.
Jack and Mikaal, who has recovered his powers and his aggression, eventually reach Throneworld, which is now governed as Regent by Prince Gavyn’s former lieutenant, Jediah Rikane, who has married the Queen. Payton is imprisoned on Throneworld and undergoing torture: he was discovered in Throneworld space, displaying an energy signature identical to that of Prince Gavyn.
Inadvertently, Jack sends a signal that starts a revolution against Rikane. Payton is killed, but is resurrected by M’ntorr, who explains that when Gavyn died in the Crisis, his energy was directed to Earth, and it was that which was reflected into Arizona and transformed Payton, killing the young man in the process, but impressing his form and features on Gavyn. Payton protests this, insisting that he is and is only Payton, though his access to Gavyn’s memories, and his powers, rapidly grows. Though he remains unconvinced, he ultimately opts to stay on Throneworld, with Queen Merria: whereas the Starman of 1951 turned out to be two different people, Starmans 5 and 6 are revealed to be the same person.
Back on Earth, Jack faces a final battle to save his city, during which Ted, battling Doctor Phosphorus, receives a lethal dose of radiation. At the last, he uses his advanced Cosmic Ray science to save Opal City one last time: The Mist, his mind restored, has set off an extremely destructive bomb to kill the Knights and their city: Ted uses a hyper-advanced Cosmic Rod to elevate the building, the bomb, the Mist and himself into space, where the bomb explosdes harmlessly, killing two old men but causing no other damage.
Jack, distraught at losing his father, begins to question his vocation as Starman. Nash is dead, killed by her father, but giving their son Kyle to Jack at the last. Sadie has left him: she is pregnant too and, whilst willing herself to share Jack’s life as Starman, will not subject her baby to it.
Jack’s final meeting with David also includes Ted: these visits have been made possible by the post-death magics of Kent (Doctor Fate) Nelson, utilising an ancient curse affecting the Opal, which Jack has helped to lift. Ted gives Jack’s intention to retire his blessing. David, however, has a final surprise for his brother, a journey home via 1951, where Jack inadvertently secures his own birth, and learns the secrets of the mystery Starman – which include the fact that Starman 3, the replacement Starman of 1951, is his brother David.
Again, thanks to Kent Nelson’s spells, David was magically transported from the moment of his death to 1951, to be granted the chance to live out his dream of acting as Starman, to show his quality, and demonstrate that he did, indeed, have what it took. His realisation that Jack has sent their father off to meet their mother is the completion of that spell, and David is returned to the instant of his death.
Jack, unsure how he will return to his own time, is collected by Starman 9, Thom Kallor/Danny Blaine. It is a farewell gift: after dropping off Jack, Blaine is returning to the day of his death.
All that remained for Jack was to pass on his Cosmic Rod. With the knowledge that Blaine was due to appear before long, and with Mikaal restored to active status, Jack chose to hand his Rod on to Courtney Whitmore, the teenage girl who had become the second Star-Spangled Kid. Courtney has continued her career as Star Girl, and may be regarded as Starman (so to speak) 10. (She’s actually destined to be overshadowed by her baby half-sister, Patricia Dugan, who will grow up to become Starwoman, another of the most famous of the line.)
Since Jack Knight’s series has ended, Kallor has returned from the Thirtieth century, adopted the role of Starman and the name of Danny Blaine and been in action as such in the most recent incarnation of the Justice Society, alongside Stargirl. Robinson has returned to comics after a break, writing a number of Justice League series, into which he has introduced Mikaal Tomas. Though the possibility was held out of a further adventure, Jack Knight has retired to San Francisco,with Kyle, to Sadie and his daughter, and resumed painting. He has not been seen since. Which, given the way in which Robinson’s writing has deteriorated in the past decade, is probably a good thing.
How much of this still applies post-New 52 is debatable. Within months of Jack Knight’s series ending, a large part of his space adventure was erased from continuity by a revision of Superman’s background and origins.
To date, no Starman has appeared. Robinson is the writer of the sadly dire Earth-2 series featuring the new Justice Society so we’re bound to get a Starman at some point, but which one, and in what shape is something I am not anxious to learn.
If it hadn’t been for Gardner Fox’s last Justice League/Justice Society story, I wouldn’t be writing this. It’s very debatable as to whether I should be anyway, but the old Reynard’s final contribution to DC opens a door that must at least be considered before being slammed firmly shut.
The story, in which the Justice Society and Justice League operated independently, without meeting, featured the former Flash 2/Green Lantern 2 villain, T. O. Morrow, a scientific genius who based his crimes on his initials and future science. He had apparently died in the coils of some great machinery a couple of years earlier, only to have used these as a cover for vibrating into Earth-2.
Morrow’s futuristic computer told him that the only way he could succeed in his plans was to create a new/old member to infiltrate the JSA. Morrow therefore created the new Red Tornado, an initially faceless android with the power of transforming his body, or any part of it, into a high speed tornado. In order to get him into the JSA, Morrow programmed him to believe that he was the original Red Tornado, a difficult task, given that there was not a single point of correspondence between the two.
Red Tornado 2 would, indeed, bring the JSA down, his whirling tornados being so disruptive, that he inadvertently ‘killed off’ the whole team. However, with the assistance of the Justice League, the Tornado restored them and was elected a member (on exceedingly slim grounds, I have to say).
The new Red Tornado was the second post-Forties member to join the JSA, following the adult Robin the previous year. He did not have a good time of it.
In 1969, he summoned the Justice League to save the Justice Society, but was warned to stay out of the battle because of the danger he posed. The following year, anxious to impress, he actually made himself into the cause of the danger to Earths 1 and 2.
Then, in 1972, when heroes all around were arguing over who should sacrifice themselves by using the Nebula Rod to destroy the Hand squeezing Earth-2 to death, it was the Red Tornado who sneaked away quietly and actually ended the menace, but killed himself in the process.
Except that, six months later, and with eyes, nose and mouth carved in by T. O . Morrow again, the Red Tornado reappeared, having only been blown across the dimensional barrier into Earth-1, from where he was unable to return. So he joined the Justice League instead. Well, if you had a potentially interesting and successful character, would you leave him in the Justice Society, to be seen only once a year among a crowd of others seen only once a year?
I don’t propose to go into Red Tornado 2’s career in anything approaching the depth I’ve done earlier in this series. His origin has been rebooted at least twice – once to reintroduce the obscure JLA ally/enemy The Tornado Champion/Tyrant as the motive force in the android, and once to make him into an Air Elemental. He’s also spent one period in a human body, before it got damaged beyond repair.
But any such description is predicated on whether or not the original Red Tornado, The Red Tornado 1, was ever actually a member of the Justice Society.
I will present the facts. The Red Tornado 1 attended the JSA’s début meeting in All-Star 3, coming and going in a single page, drawn (and probably written) by All-Star editor Sheldon Mayer. The Tornado climbed in through the window, shuffled around nervously, refused the courteous offer to take ‘his’ cape, then left hurriedly, revealing that ‘he’ had had his longjohns ripped off by a nail on the windowsill.
And this was the career of the JSA member that the android Red Tornado believed constituted Justice Society membership.
But who was the Red Tornado? The Tornado 1 was a supporting character in Shelly Mayer’s own series in All-American Comics, Scribbly, the Adventures of a Boy Cartoonist, a purely comic series based to some extent on Mayer’s own experiences, who went on to virtually take the show over. Scribbly Jibbet and his younger brother Dinky were always at Ma Hunkel’s, a brawny New York housewife and grocery store owner, whose daughter, Sisty, was the same age as Dinky. At one point, Dinky and Sisty were kidnapped by crooks. Scribbly mentioned how Green Lantern could get them, and Ma quizzed him as to who and what the Lantern was. Next thing you know, the kids are being rescued by this costumed brawler, wearing red longjohns and long-sleeves, green shorts, a yellow top, a curtain for a cape, big gloves and a helmet made out of a saucepan with eyeholes cut into it.
The Red Tornado turned out to be a very active local figure. Oh, and of course, the Tornado was Ma Hunkel. Often mistakenly referred to as the Red Tomato, incidentally. All Brawn and No Brains.
To be serious for a moment, the original Red Tornado was a genuinely historical figure in comics. Not only was she the first ever superhero spoof but, predating Wonder Woman by several months, Ma Hunkel was the very first female superhero.
Just to round the Red Tornado 1’s story off, she and her connection with the JSA has been taken more seriously in the modern era. Geoff Johns revealed that Martha Hunkel had, long ago, revealed her identity to testify against gangsters and, as a result, had been hidden in Witness Protection for decades, unable to contact her family (over whom the JSA had watched), until at last the final member of the gang that had sworn revenge on her died. Ma came out of hiding to become a motherly figure to the JSA, and their caretaker, and after Infinite Crisis, her granddaughter, Maxine Hunkel, was found to have natural wind controlling powers, and joined the Justice Society as Cyclone, to train.
And that’s the story of the Red Tornado(s). But I still don’t think she was ever a member of the Justice Society in the Forties.