about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

The Twelve Days of Who's Who! Part One: from Arkham to Catwoman (1985-1989)

Though his signature has been erased by DC's marketing stooges, that magnificent cover was drawn by Dick Goddamn Giordano.

While Two-Face is my favorite character, I love all of the Batman villains. I think that they're the greatest rogues gallery ever created in any medium, a remarkably diverse and complex array of men and monsters, of the evil and the insane, of mirrors into Batman and humanity itself. That said, there have been a LOT of villains, some more enduring than most, with many getting lost in the cracks of continuity and apathy. But I love them all. I even kinda love the ones I hate, because fandom is a complicated thing that way. And since I love characters above anything else in superhero comics, I have a special fondness for old issues of Who's Who and, to a lesser extent, the Secret Files and Origins books from the 90's-00's.

But then, I've always loved character profiles. I think one reason I loved G.I. Joe action figures as a kid was because they used to print the character's bios and stats right there on the package. Like they were actual people with personalities and history and stuff! Who's Who allows one to see the character distilled, free from stories to play in one's own imagination. They let you relive your favorite stories and moments. They show you tons of characters you never knew existed! They're fascinating time capsules from the period they were written! They give you many new and awful costumes to snark about! All in all, they provide a wonderful tour of the good, the bad, the ugly, the dated, the timeless, and the gloriously misbegotten.

So I want to look at them with you. All of them.

For the next twelve days, I shall be posting a handful of profiles with commentary. I don't promise that any of it will be insightful, since it's the holidays on top of everything else in my life, but the profiles are the important things. This year, I plan to extend About_Faces to occasionally looking at the other villains besides Harvey, partially because I'm running out of good Two-Face stories and partially because I've been itching to write about Ozzie, Eddie, Crane, Pam, and more.

So since DC' original Who's Who profiles from 1985-1989 all had the same format, let's start by looking at them, accompanied with the revised profiles when applicable. Here, you'll see a lot of old favorites accompanied by the obscure, the unloved, and the downright forgotten, drawn by some of the greatest artists that the 80's had to offer. And who knows, maybe you'll find a villain who has untapped potential? As I've always said, when it comes to superhero comics, there are no bad characters, just bad writers. That said, some characters really test that mantra's limits.

Note: Since I don't have a scanner on hand, most scans have been taken without permission (this time) from Grantbridge Street's post of Batman character profile pages from DC's 80's Who's Who series, while I've found a few others at Bailey's Batman Podcast. Go and check out those sites, as they're both valuable resources for comics awesomeness. The scans themselves have been taken from the full run of Who's Who in the DC Universe, including Update '87 and Update '88, plus Detective Comics Annual #2.

Let's start with a profile that's not a character, although it's become the closest to a living entity that a location can:

The very first entry serves not just as the ideal introduction to the villains, but also a perfect example of how Who's Who serve as a time capsule. Spinning out of a prominent appearance in Alan Moore's brilliant Saga of the Swamp Thing, Bissette and Totleben provide this fantastic look at Arkham and a few of its inmates. Floronic Man in clearly included, this tying it back to Moore's first big Swamp Thing story, sharing space alongside Joker, Harvey, and... um... Maxie Zeus? Okay then.

Fun fact: Swamp Thing creator Len Wein wrote this bio, and created the entire backstory for Arkham. It was this page that Grant Morrison used as the basis for his famous graphic novel with Dave McKean, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. So yeah, whether you loved that story or not, you have this page to thank. I've gotta say, I think I prefer this original page's description of what happened to "Mad Dog" Hawkins, which Wein describes with wonderful dryness. Arkham was compassionate right up until the totally accidental electrocution! And then to everyone's surprise, he went crazy! Who the heck saw that coming?

I've never read a comic with the Black Spider, who I'm only familiar with from an appearance in the wonderful mini-series The Untold Legend of the Batman, which led me to assume that he was kind of important. Now, I'm guessing not so much. The only Black Spider I know is the one who appeared in the 90's to work for Black Mask, but that version of the character was brought back in the early 2000's only to be unceremoniously killed off in the pages of Gotham Central. So there's that.

Reading this biography, though, I found it really compelling and tragic up until the "super-flies" bit. Considering that the creator of Black Spider was Gerry Conway, who was definitely a Honky McHonkerson, it just reads as kinda laughably misguided. It's really good up until the point that Conway seemed to take Blaxsploitation as docudrama! Oh... wait, I get it. The Black Spider is black. That honestly didn't even occur to me until just now. I should have known better, because in this time period, any character with "Black" in their names usually was. And yet, it's somehow even more troubling that all subsequent Black Spiders have been white, I think.

Black Spider, by the way, is possibly the first of a recurring theme of villains who were likely created to be "Like Batman, but evil!" We'll go more into that in a later entry, but file that thought away for future reference.

There's always been something about Blockbuster that I find off-putting. I've known about his original story for years thanks to its inclusion in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, so it was/is clearly considered a Bronze Age classic, but it's always left me cold. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the hair and sandals that make him look like a hippie hulk. Still, the character had two things going for him--the tragic Jekyll/Hyde aspect, and his emotional connection to Bruce Wayne--neither of which were carried over when his asshole brother Roland became the new Blockbuster. Thankfully, Roland was reworked into a serviceable Kingpin clone by Chuck Dixon in Nightwing (good lord, with Scott McDaniel on the art, how did I never see that book as DC's attempt at copying Daredevil?!), but by and large, Blockbuster of any stripe is barely a character to me.

Still, he deserved better than being canon fodder for a big event storyline like Legends. One recurring theme you're gonna notice with these characters is that many were brought back for the express purpose of being killed off to give the story some cheap shock value. "Oh no, he killed Blockbuster! This story is *IMPORTANT* now!" Maybe I should end this list with a memorial to all the B, C, and D-list characters sacrificed at the altar of lazy storytelling. But eh, that might be too much work. ;)

I wasn't sure at first if I should include Bronze Tiger in the villains line-up, but being a brainwashed good guy who's not in control of his actions puts him in a similar boat as Blockbuster or Man-Bat, so I think he counts. Plus, he killed Batwoman. He did it in an incredibly cheap and pointless manner, but still, that's big. It's a good reminder that sometimes even the villains who do some of the worst things are victims in their own right, or at least are not in control of their actions. Sounds a lot like some of Batman's other foes, doesn't it?

Goddammit, I miss the Calendar Man's old costume. Actually, he used to wear SEVERAL different costumes, each themed with the crime he committed. Now that's a villain who's committed to the art of crime! Sadly, thanks to Jeph Loeb, we're now stuck with a poor man's Hannibal Lecter with head-tattoos, a version which persists even in Arkham City. Oh well.

I still can't believe that Gail Simone was actually able to make Cat-Man a popular character. It boggles the mind. I mean, sure, perhaps it was a little TOO mean to do what Brad Meltzer did and reduce Cat-Man to an overweight loser (which I'd love to show you, except there are NO scans of him from Green The Archer's Quest. Man, why isn't that story more popular? It's the best GA story I have ever read!), or going the Ty Templeton route of having him chased up a tree by G'Nort. Personally, I just like the fact that The Fairly Oddparents pretty well replicated this costume for their own Catman character voiced by Adam West. That's my favorite take right there. But being drawn by Art Adams doesn't hurt either.

I'd argue that Dave Stevens (of The Rocketeer fame) delivered one of the all-time great Catwoman drawings here. Y/N? Oh, and in case you're confused, that's the Selina from Earth-2. Which is to say, the original Catwoman from the Golden Age, which isn't the same as the Catwoman that comics fans of the 80's were reading. Still confused? Here's that Selina from Earth-1, the main Earth then-current continuity OH MY GOD I KNOW ALL OF THIS AND JUST TRYING TO EXPLAIN IT IS HURTING MY BRAIN:

Yeah, looking at these two profiles side by side, I can see why continuity needed to be cleaned up, because I can so easily imagine novice readers getting confused by these two very-similar-looking Catwoman profiles. There's nothing that quickly distinguishes them apart, never mind trying to understand the screwy continuity of the original Catwoman being turned into the alternate universe Catwoman who grew old and was killed off.

I find it interesting that neither version of Selina opts to include her origin as an amnesiac airline stewardess. I guess, even at the time, they thought that this was too silly? Really, I have to wonder if this is the Catwoman that certain fans claim to miss when they disparage the Post-Crisis Catwoman of Frank Miller onward. Speaking of which...

So, can anyone else tell me what's awkward about that bio? Yep, the costume and art by Alan Davis are all Pre-Crisis (specifically from her last appearance before the reboot, wherein the Joker and Dr. Moon brainwashed her), but the bio is all Batman: Year One, which completely changed her history and took that costume out of continuity. Not that DC knew that at the time. Far as they were concerned, the gray-suited Catwoman would probably have gone on to wear the above costume in the modern era eventually! Things didn't work out that way, though, and her next prominent appearance in the mini-series Catwoman: Her Sister's Keeper reinforced the gray-suit look:

I'm amused by the logo. It's like someone vandalized a perfectly good "ATWOMAN" sign.

And there, Selina is now fully transformed into her Post-Crisis character, with all Pre-Crisis elements wiped away. No purple costume, no brother named Karl Kyle, no Dr. Moon, just a recap of the events of Year One and Her Sister's Keeper, plus Mindy Newell's Catwoman story from Action Comics Weekly here Holly died. In other words, it's become solely the stories which became the foundation for Selina's new history, which was covered extensively and brilliantly by my Henchgirl, dr_von_fangirl. Man, I wish she'd finally get back to reviews already, since I feel so unqualified to write about Selina. Come back to LJ, Henchgirl! We love you! Me especially!

Okay, that's enough for now! Tomorrow, you get to find out just how many Batman villain names start with the letter C! Hint: it's a lot!
Tags: arkham, arthur adams, catwoman, joker, len wein, pat broderick, who's who and secret files

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