Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Battle Between Good & Evil

Was seldom presented so starkly by DC in the 1960s as with the Flash and the Reverse Flash. The Reverse Flash, also known as Professor Zoom, was a criminal from hundreds of years in the future who had stolen a Flash costume from a time capsule. By amplifying the super-speed wave patterns he found in the costume (don't laugh) Zoom was able to gain the speed power himself. The Flash managed to defeat him in Flash #139 (September 1963), but he was back a year later in Flash #147 for a terrific story called Our Enemy the Flash.

The story also featured the return of one of the Flash's earliest villains, Al Desmond, who had appeared in both Showcase #13 and #14, the last two tryout issues before Barry Allen was granted his own title. It is worth noting that Desmond appeared as two villains, both Mr Element and Dr Alchemy, in those issues. He was one of two DC characters I can think of who changed his supervillain identity in the Silver Age; the Signalman/Blue Bowman was the other.

But by Flash #147, Al Desmond was on the straight and narrow, and in this respect he was pretty unique in the DC universe, although of course Marvel had probably dozens of characters that started as villains and became heroes--the Scarlet Witch, the Black Widow, Hawkeye and Quicksilver to name just a few.

Professor Zoom, who lost his superspeed in the prior battle with the Flash, manages to hypnotize Desmond and forces him to bring him back to the past. He has discovered a metal called Element Z which allows him to travel at hypervelocity, but unfortunately it is unstable and thus he can only maintain the speed for awhile. So he naturally seeks out Mr Element for his chemical abilities.

And is dismayed to discover that Al's become a goody-two shoes. So he forces Desmond to commit a couple of crimes after which, improbably, Mr Element solves the problem of Element Z.

Professor Zoom heads back to the future leaving a despondent Mr Element behind. But the Flash, who suspects the truth behind Desmond's suddent lapse chases him on his cosmic treadmill. He defeats Zoom and returns to the past. Meanwhile Desmond has turned himself in along with the proceeds of his crime wave. Thanks to the Flash's explanation, Al is freed.

The Reverse Flash/Mr Element/Flash story continues in Flash #153's The Mightiest Punch of All Time. In this story, Professor Zoom is about to be freed from prison after being subjected to a "cerebro scanner" that reveals that he has been entirely rehabilitated. Not surprisingly, Zoom had managed to scam the scanner. He decides to resume his battle with the Flash by corrupting Al Desmond with a criminality-inducing ray.

The Reverse Flash manages to capture Barry. Desmond, realizing that he can only help as Mr Element, dons his costume and commits a crime. This gives Zoom an idea: Why not allow Mr Element to destroy the Flash? But the good side of Desmond wins out and he frees the Flash, who kayoes his evil counterpart. Flash then takes Al to the future, to undergo scientific rehabilitation. This time the cerebro scanner works properly and Desmond is finally free of his criminal past.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Green Lantern's Brother Jim

One oddity about comics is how seldom we encounter relatives of superheroes, especially siblings. Kal-El had no brothers or sisters; neither did Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Peter Parker, Barry Allen, Jimmy Olsen... it might save some time to mention characters that we know did actually have siblings in the Silver Age: Lois Lane (sister Lucy), Scott Summers (brother Alex), Sue Storm (brother Johnny), Quicksilver (sister Scarlett Witch) and Hal Jordan (brothers Jim and Jack).

The first three mentioned had a fair number of appearances in the Silver Age. Johnny Storm was the Human Torch, and he appeared in both Fantastic Four and Strange Tales. Havok appeared in the last dozen or so issues of the Silver Age X-Men. Lucy Lane became the permanent love interest for Jimmy Olsen during the Silver Age.

Jim Jordan, on the other hand, appeared in only a few issues of Green Lantern, becoming more or less an annual character. The interesting part of these stories was that Sue Williams became convinced because of an odd set of circumstances, that Jim was secretly Green Lantern. In her first appearance with Jim (GL #9), Sue's a magazine reporter determined to get the scoop on Green Lantern's secret identity. By the end of that story she's convinced (wrongly as we know) that Jim is actually GL.

Hal's brothers next appear in GL #14. By now, Sue's introduced as Jim's girlfriend. She discovers an old green lantern in Jim's hotel room and is convinced that it is the famed lamp that gives GL his powers. Earlier, Jim and Hal have accidentally switched rings, so he does briefly have super abilities, which just serves to confirm Sue's suspicions.

The Jordan brothers next appear in GL #22's Dual Masquerade of the Jordan Brothers. Red Peters, a criminal has just escaped from jail. As it happens, Jack Jordan was the prosecutor who sent him to jail, while Uncle Jeremiah Jordan was the judge who sentenced him, and Green Lantern captured him. Since Sue has written about her suspicions that Jim is secretly GL, she is concerned that Red will be gunning for the Jordans at Uncle Jeremiah's upcoming birthday party.

In one of those "convenient for the plot" moments, the birthday party turns out to feature a masquerade, although in a sloppy bit of art, Jim Jordan and Red Peters seem to be the only ones wearing a disguise. Hal decides to play along with his brother's impersonation of GL in the hopes that Peters will be scared away.

In GL #31, the Jordan Brothers return. This time Jim is about to be married to Sue, but then a villain appears with a bizarre threat:

Once again, Green Lantern comes to the rescue, and once again, circumstances conspire to convince Sue that her husband (they marry in the last panel of the story) is secretly Green Lantern.

Jim returns again in GL #44. He has started a new career as an image maker, and his first client is another uncle, this time millionaire Titus Jordan. Sue has enrolled Uncle Titus in a scheme to establish once and for all that Jim is secretly Green Lantern. Uncle Titus wants Hal to pretend to be a super-criminal named the Bottler (sheesh, what a scary name for a villain). But the real Bottler shows up and Hal, the real Green Lantern, once again saves the day, but leaves Sue more convinced than ever that her husband is secretly the Emerald Gladiator.

In GL #53, Hal babysits his new nephew, Howard Jordan, the son of Sue and Jim, while the young couple attends a play. But the theatre is robbed and when GL shows up to defeat the crooks, Sue is even more convinced than ever that he is secretly her husband.

Jim, Sue and Howard make a cameo appearance in GL #63. The whole family gets together for their final appearance in GL #71. In this story, they meet up with Doug Jordan, who somehow is a hippie from Tennessee. Sue is convinced Doug is up to no good, so she insists that Jim take care of him as GL. But Doug (who is indeed a bad 'un), konks Jim and takes him to a motorcycle gang he's trying to join. Fortunately the real GL arrives in time to save him. In the end, Jim extracts a promise from GL to come to the party to prove to his wife he's not the superhero she thinks he is. GL agrees, but only because he's already going to the party as Hal, and thus Sue remains convinced that her husband is the ring-wielder.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Quick Trivia

Quick, name a DC series that started out in Mystery in Space, then continued in Strange Adventures in the 1960s.

Did you say Adam Strange? Wrong! Adam Strange did start out in Mystery in Space, but the Strange Adventures stories were all reprints with the exception of #222, which featured a new Adam Strange story, but which was dated Jan-Feb 1970.

The answer, and it's a tough one, is Star Rovers. The Star Rovers were a trio of space explorers and adventurers. Glamorous Karel Sorenson was a former Miss Solar System and expert shot, while playboy Rick Purvis was a big game hunter. The final member was novelist and sportsman Homer Glint.

The series seems in some ways the Atomic Knights equivalent in Mystery In Space, in that they did not appear in every issue, but every few issues. However, unlike Atomic Knights, Star Rovers was more traditional in some ways and yet more offbeat. It was traditional in that the stories were formulaic. The Star Rovers would be asked to solve some mystery and each would come to a conclusion that debunked the others, and yet in the end all three would be proven wrong.

Indeed, within a few stories they were all remarking on that fact:

The titles to the stories were all questions:

MIS #66: Who Shot the Loborilla?
MIS #69: What Happened on Sirius-4?
MIS #74: Where Is The Paradise of Space?
MIS #77: Where Was I Born? Venus? Mars? Jupiter?
MIS #80: Who Saved the Earth?
MIS #83: Who Went Where? and Why?
MIS #86: When Did Earth Vanish?

At this point, though, Julius Schwartz, the editor of MIS ran into a problem that was actually fairly common at DC over the years: he inherited a new feature. Hawkman, who had been having trouble earning his own title despite a pair of three-issue tryouts in Brave and Bold was assigned to Mystery in Space, which left no room for the Rovers. So they scurried over to Strange Adventures #159 and #163 before finally being retired. They never made the cover of any magazine they appeared in; they were strictly backup material.

And yet there is a certain charm to the series. Gardner Fox tinkered with the formula a bit, and so the Rovers were not always wrong despite frequent initial misconceptions. Sid Greene's artwork was perfect for the slightly humorous sci-fi settings. And it cut against the grain of DC's typical heroes who always figured out the most cryptic mysteries on their own.

Correction: I originally said Sid Broome. My bad!