The Racial Justice Experience
Diversity In The DC Universe: 1979-Today
by John Wells
The examination of ethnic main characters in the DCU continues with a focus on Black Lightning, Amanda Waller, Black Spider, Blackwing, Killer Croc, Pow-Wow Smith and Sunburst
Justice, Like Lightning ...
In his eighteenth year, Jefferson Michael Pierce participated in the Olympics and believed that life could never get any better than this. At twenty-two, he came away from the Decathlon with a gold medal. Surely, this must have been his fifteen minutes of fame. And then came his twenty-seventh year. And his twenty-ninth. And at thirty-five ... well, as a child, he'd vowed to escape his Suicide Slum roots but, in his wildest dreams, Jeff Pierce had never imagined he part of the Presidential Cabinet. Of course, he'd never imagined he'd be Black Lightning, either ...
Black Lightning, as related by Tony Isabella in The Comics Buyer's Guide # 921 (1991) and 1093 (1994), had originated in another writer's proposal, a character who, in Isabella's words, was "a white bigot in his secret identity." In 1976, Paul Levitz approached Tony about salvaging the character but Isabella found the two completed scripts to be so horrendously misguided that he suggested an entirely new hero. Isabella and penciller Trevor Von Eedon's Black Lightning became one of DC's major launches in the first months of 1977 and the first two issues (plus # 6) set up most of the back story.
Born and raised in Metropolis' Suicide Slum, Jeff had lost his father when he was only three, the result of a shooting by an unknown gunman at the grocery store where he worked. "Mom did the best she could to raise me by herself," he recalled, "but it was pretty rough until Peter (Gambi) opened up his (tailor) shop underneath our apartment. Within a year, Peter was more like a member of the family than a neighbor ... and it was good to see Mom smile again. Peter made her an equal partner in his shop. The two of them saw me through high school -- two Olympics -- and a teaching degree from Kent State."
Jeff ended up teaching at a high school in New Carthage but returned to Metropolis for his mother's funeral. In his time away, Jeff had married and divorced a young woman named Lynn Stewart. As related in Secret Origins # 26 (1988), "Lynn left because she thought I couldn't get angry enough -- at least not at all the terrible things in the world. She said all I ever really cared about was getting out of this crummy neighborhood and never looking back. Maybe she was right. Then."
"But when I came back for the funeral, I looked around and saw that nothing had changed here. Not a damned thing. It got to me for some reason. Don't ask me to explain it, because I can't. Maybe I can make a difference this time. Somebody has to try."
And, indeed, back at his old alma mater of Garfield High School, Jeff quickly made an impression when he kicked a drug pusher off the premises and followed suit by humilating three members of the criminal organization known as the 100. In retaliation, the gunmen killed Earl Clifford, one of Pierce's students, and left his corpse in the GHS gymnasium.
A distraught Jeff related the tragedy to Peter Gambi, who urged him to fight back in a persona that wouldn't invite counter-attacks on his students. Presenting him with a predominantly blue costume, Peter confessed that "I guess I had this in mind from the minute I received your letter saying you were coming home. Put it on, Jefferson. These streets -- the kids -- they need a symbol -- and you're it!"
Justice, like lightning should ever appear
It was "a poem written long ago based on words by Thomas Randolph. A poem that expressed the dual nature of justice. A poem whose meaning had been lost ... until then. Gambi had remembered the poem. His skills brought it to life anew."
Equipped with a force-field belt that enabled him to generate lighting bolts, Black Lightning had been born. Jefferson Pierce played to the era's stereotypical perception of blacks by affecting a hip-talking speech pattern as Black Lightning and wearing a mask/wig combination that gave him a big afro, simple devices that deflected suspicion from a well-educated school-teacher.
Over the course of his first eight issues, Black Lightning carved out a niche in Metropolis, ultimately gaining the trust of such high-profile figures as Superman, Inspector William Henderson and reporter Jimmy Olsen. Along the way, he defeated several super-powered underlings of the100, from Merlyn (# 2) to the Cyclotronic Man (# 4-5) to Syonide (# 6-7), as well as the gang's gargantuan albino leader, Tobias Whale (# 1-8).
There would be retaliation for Black Lightning's actions but not against Jeff Pierce's students. Rather, it was Peter Gambi who paid the price, leaping in front of a gun-blast meant for Black Lightning. Stripped of his force-field belt, the hero seemed destined for a similar fate but, in his fury, Black Lightning generated its effects from within his own body. In some unknown manner, he'd internalized the electrical power. The confrontation with the 100 had also exposed Peter's darkest secret. The support and love that he'd showered on Jeff and Mrs. Pierce had been a kind of penance. He had been the man who killed Jeff's father (# 7).
A letter from Peter was delivered to the grieving young man at Gambi's funeral, posthumously promising an explanation for his actions. "You know, I've been staying awake nights trying to figure out who Peter was before he came into my life," Jeff said. "I came up blank. I don't know what crimes were in his past -- or even how the belt he designed gave me super-powers. But he gave his life to give me a dream -- and dreams are hard to find these days." Tearing the unopened letter to shreds, the young man let the scraps fall over the broken Earth. "Rest in peace, Peter" (# 8).
Isabella was an advocate of the shared universe of DC comics and peppered Black Lightning with characters and locales that originated elsewhere. Gambi, for instance, was the brother of 1960s criminal tailor Paul Gambi, who had debuted in The Flash # 141 and was named after fan Paul Gambaccini. Suicide Slum had originated in Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's 1940s "Newsboy Legion" series while New Carthage was the locale for Dick Grayson's Hudson University. Inspector Henderson had been a staple of the Superman radio and television shows of the 1940s and 1950s while Officer Jim Corrigan (no relation to the Spectre) had appeared in a few early 1970s Jimmy Olsen episodes.
Tony's final issue of the series proved to be # 10, which ended with an ominous hint that Jeff's ex-wife was to become the target of a cult. Lynn Stewart had been hired as a teacher at Garfield High in # 3 and figured out that Jeff was Black Lightning in # 9: "Do you honestly think a mask and a wig can fool a woman who's seen you in your birthday suit ?" The cult subplot proved to have been a hastily-written substitution for the gag feature originally intended to close the issue and Isabella later admitted that he had no idea where that story thread would have gone.
DC's line-wide purge of its weaker titles in the summer of 1978 claimed Black Lightning as one of its victims. It ended in June with # 11, Denny O'Neil's debut as scripter. Within six months, Black Lightning returned for his most-widely circulated appearance to date -- a guest-spot in the nationally-distributed World's Greatest Super-Heroes comic strip, by Marty Pasko, George Tuska and Vince Colletta. Over the course of the adventure (running from November 1978 through January 1979), Lightning joined forces with The Batman to investigate a series of student abductions (including Dick Grayson) and met Superman and Black Canary before the case had closed.
Regrettably, Lightning missed the opportunity to appear in the late 1970s revamp of the "Super Friends" animated series. Tony Isabella had retained a percentage of the profits when he created the character and received a royalty each time the character was used. Rather than pay for the character, Hanna Barbera simply created a electrical-based hero of their own called Black Vulcan.
In comic books, Denny O'Neil continued the series in early 1979's World's Finest # 256, where Green Arrow met Metropolis' newest hero and acknowledged him as a kindred spirit. The story continued over the next two issues with a rematch against Tobias Whale. O'Neil's take on Black Lightning proceeded with stories in # 259 and 260 that had originally been intended for Black Lightning # 13 and 12, respectively, and closed with # 261.
September of 1979 saw three separate Black Lightning appearances, including his regular World's Finest spot in # 260 and a guest appearance in Justice League of America # 173, the first of a two-parter wherein he rejected an invitation to join the League. Most significant in retrospect was his O'Neil-scripted team-up with Superman in DC Comics Presents # 16. The catalyst of the story was a girl named Trina Shelton who was shot and killed by a stray bullet during an altercation between Lightning and muggers. The balance of the episode dealt with the heroes battling Trina's boyfriend, a magnetic refugee from outer space whom Lightning defeated by pushing his electrical field to the limit.
The first half of 1980 saw Lightning's series revived for a Marty Pasko-scripted two-parter in Detective # 490-491 that recast Jeff Pierce as a high school coach and stripped him of his powers in an accident. Jeff had resumed his teaching position in J.M. DeMatteis' subsequent pair of scripts (# 494, 495) but the loss of Black Lightning's powers had stuck. Between issues, the depowered Lightning also crossed paths with Batman in The Brave and The Bold # 163 (by Paul Kupperberg and Dick Giordano) and left the Dark Knight admitting that "I am impressed."
It fell to Mike W. Barr to revive Jeff Pierce some three years later, picking up on the Batman connection and the DC Comics Presents story as part of 1983's Batman and The Outsiders # 1 and 2. Hoping to rescue his friend Lucius Fox from war-torn Markovia, the Dark Knight recruited Jeff to infiltrate the country, posing as Fox's brother. Inevitably, he was forced to become Black Lightning and ended up being captured alongside Batman. Ignoring the short-lived Detective run, Barr had Lightning reveal that he'd lost his powers after Trina Shelton's death. Convinced that the loss was psychological, the Dark Knight began to verbally prod at him and brought Jeff's electrical powers back to life once more.
The next four years saw a new confidence envelop Black Lightning, as he forged new friends with the Outsiders, found a teaching post at Gotham City's Edison High (BATO # 4, 6), gained a bit of closure in Trina Shelton's death after a confrontation with her parents (BATO # 9-10), revisited the Olympics (BATO # 14-15) and even had an amicable reunion with Lynn Stewart, (Outsiders (first series) # 4, 9-14), now the president of a public relations firm.
By the end of 1987, though, the Outsiders were disbanded (Outsiders # 28) and Jeff was settling into a teaching job in yet another city (Secret Origins # 26). The end of 1988 saw Black Lightning's powers go berserk upon the detonation of the Dominator's Gene-bomb (Invasion! # 3) and Jeff could no longer deny that "the power was part of me -- there was no doubting it any longer. It had been given to me for a reason." Reflecting on his newfound goals in 1995's Black Lightning # 5, he explained that he'd moved to the so-called Brick City, a neighborhood in his father's hometown. "I knew I couldn't save the world -- but I could save one neighborhood -- and maybe even the future."
1992's Who's Who # 16 hinted that a new Black Lightning series was in the offing with an entry that included a never-seen-again costume illustrated by Mark Bright. The book wouldn't come to fruition until Tony Isabella made a triumphant return to his creation in 1995, now paired with artist Eddy Newell. The official new costume included a red and black jacket and lighting coursing between the hero's eyes, eliminating the need for a mask.
Isabella and Newell's reality-based series hoped to emphasize genuine political and social concerns even as metahuman threats such as Painkiller (Black Lightning # 2-4) presented themselves. The ongoing menace of a gang known as the Royal Family figured into a school shooting at the end of # 4 that left Jeff critically wounded and one of his best friends, teacher Walter Kasko, dead. The introspective "Blowed Away" in issue # 5 dealt with Jeff's physical and spiritual recovery, as he tried to come to grips with his career as Black Lightning and the deaths of so many along the way.
In addition to Kasko, the new series had also introduced a number of other new players to the cast, notably student Lamar Henderson, an informant nicknamed Beagle, police contact Tommy Colavito and new love interest Gail Harris.
An editorial flap resulted in Isabella and Newell leaving the book after issue # 8 and the series, now in the hands of writer David DeVries, soon collapsed. The final serial (# 11-13) found Batman renewing his ties with Lightning to help clear him of charges that he was a serial killer. Once the furor had died down, Isabella and Newell returned to Lightning for a striking black and white episode in Christmas 1997's DCU Holiday Bash II.
In the three years since then, Black Lightning has made no more than a handful of appearances, working with the Outsiders in Markovia during a Hellish eruption of demons (Day of Judgment # 4) and serving with the Justice League Reserves in the midst of other disasters (JLA # 27, 41). His efforts during the Mageddon crisis, in particular, were critical as he taxed his abilities like never before, attempting "to tap the electrical field of the planet" (# 41).
"You've accomplished so many things, helped so many people -- and you weigh yourself down with the times you didn't succeed, the ones you couldn't help. Stop denying what you are, Jeff. You're a good man and then some. You're a super-hero just as real as they come -- in a world that's damn hard on heroes. You haven't made compromises, you've made choices ... and they've been the right choices for you. This city -- and all the other cities like it -- it's where your heart is. Superman and those others -- God bless 'em -- they can save the world every week. You can make it a better world. Don't you know how special you are ?"
The words that Lynn spoke to Jeff as he recovered from his bullet wounds in Black Lightning # 5 echoed back as he made one of the biggest choices of his life, accepting the position of Secretary of Education in the new Luthor Administration (Superman # 166). Will serving on President Luthor's Cabinet give Jeff the resources to make a better world ? Or, as in Markovia, is he serving as one of The Batman's agents ? In the distance, you can hear the sound of thunder.
The Unbreakable Wall
Armed with a newly-awarded political science degree, the widowed mother of five marched into the headquarters of dark horse Congressional candidate Marvin Collins, singing his praises while candidly admitting that he had little hope of getting elected. She suggested a partnership, combining her common sense approach with his idealism. "I am Amanda Waller," she declared, "and as of this second I am your new campaign director!"
Her sister, Mary White, observed that "Amanda decided at an early age that unless you could make her do something, she didn't have to do it. And she didn't have to listen, neither. I learned a lesson our folks never did. You don't fight Amanda; you just give her a taste of her own medicine. She don't like that much."
At the age of eighteen, Amanda Blake married 20-year-old Joseph Waller and they settled into Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing project. "We wanted a family and the Lord surely blessed us with one. Joe, Jr. and Damita were first, then came the twins, Martin and Jessie, and then my baby, Coretta. Times were hard but they didn't make us hard. We got by."
In the span of six months, however, tragedy struck the Waller household three times. Joe, Jr. was gunned down by gang members and Damita was raped and murdered by a sadistic pusher called the Candyman. Furious that his daughter's killer couldn't be arrested without a witness, Joe, Sr. snapped, tracked down the Candyman and shot him. The dying pusher fired back and Amanda Waller became a widow. "No more," she vowed over their tombstones. "I ain't letting these damn streets have no more of my family. By God in Heaven, I swear I'll get them out or kill myself trying."
Mary White recalled that "she wound up having to swallow a lot of that pride. Had to go on the welfare to keep her babies alive. That burned her deep, I'm telling you." Amanda refused her sister's offer of assistance, snapping that the taste of government aid "rots in my mouth! I'm gonna get me power over my own life! And Heaven help the one who tries to take that power from me!"
The hardship "didn't kill me," Amanda noted, "though sometimes I thought it would. First, I got the last of my babies through college. Then I got myself through college. Then I looked around for something to do." That something was her advocacy of Marvin Collins' platform. Through Amanda's efforts, he won the election and became an influential voice in Washington.
As his aide, Amanda soon found herself aspiring to a head up a grander project. After stumbling across data on a former government strikeforce known as the Suicide Squad, she approached the President about reviving the Squad under her command.
"I'm a practical woman. I see a problem, I wanted it solved. There are things, here and abroad, that need doing, but for one reason or another, the government cannot do them. That's fine. I understand that. But those things still need doing.
"What's needed is a covert group of agents -- utterly ruthless, totally expendable. Prisons are full of those kind of people and it costs to keep them there. Especially the super-villains. So why not let them contribute to their country ? Make them a deal: do what needs doing, succeed and survive, and keep your trap shut, and we'll commute your sentences to time served."
A field test against the Apokolips-spawned threat of Brimstone had been a success and Waller managed to get Presidential approval. He cautioned that "the group's existence will depend on the goodwill of whoever's in this office, Mrs. Waller. Remember that."
Created by John Ostrander, Amanda Waller was destined to become one of DC's most memorable creations of the 1980s, a tough, single-minded control freak who would do anything to correct a perceived injustice. She'd been introduced during the Brimstone affair in 1986's Legends # 1 and 3-5 (with art by John Byrne and Karl Kesel) and her origin (quoted above along with excerpts from Suicide Squad # 31) was laid out in Secret Origins # 14 (art by Luke McDonnell and Dave Hunt) before the launch of the ongoing Suicide Squad title.
The Squad had its share of personal setbacks as members drafted for the team were killed but Amanda's own powerbase was progressively expanding. Her installation as commander of Earth's Intelligence forces during the Alien Armada's assault on Earth should have represented the zenith of her career (Invasion! # 2) but it had been tainted by a disastrous political scandal that exposed the Squad's existence to the public. Among the consequences was Squad member Deadshot's unexpected assassination of Senator Joseph Cray, who'd attempted to blackmail Waller and the Squad into helping him get re-elected (Suicide Squad # 22). After a Congressional hearing, Amanda was publicly stripped of her duties but privately retained full control of her strikeforce (SS # 24-25)
Amanda's prestige took another hit when Kobra manipulated the Squad and other metahuman U.S. agencies into fighting against one another, an operation that became known as "the Janus Directive" (Checkmate! # 15-18; Suicide Squad # 27-30; Manhunter # 14; Firestorm # 86). Kobra was ultimately taken down but the President was furious, vowing to reorganize all of the agencies. "The only reason Kobra got as far as he did was he played on you people like violins!"
Amanda would now be required to report to Sarge Steel and was informed that "your remaining the head of the Squad permanently will depend on how much of a team player you show yourself to be."
"Why am I being singled out here ?!" she demanded to know. "If it wasn't for me, Kobra would've won! I'm the one who smoked him out!"
"And you never told me," the President countered. "You've played the lone wolf too often, Mrs. Waller, and you enjoy it too much. That may have worked under the former administration but it won't work under mine. End of discussion." (Suicide Squad # 30).
Mary White, who now served as head of medical facilities at the Squad's Belle Reve headquarters, was deeply concerned for her sibling's emotional health. Speaking to Father Richard Craemer, she confessed that "I'm scared for my baby sister, Rev -- scared that the anger in her is congealing into hate. That hate will kill her, you mark my words!"
Confronting Amanda, Craemer told her that "people here call you 'The Wall' and you let them because you like it -- you like the image. But it's false. You have emotions like every other human being but you sublimate them -- and that affects your judgment.
"You systematically surround yourself with people who will act as a natural check and balance to you -- LaGrieve did it, Nightshade did it, Flag did it, and so does your sister. You count on them to keep you honest -- to rein in your nastier side. By the time the Janus Directive came around, most of them were gone. You were emotionally on your own -- and you made some bad calls. And you know it.
"So -- what will you do now ? Surround yourself again with people who'll put the brakes on you ... or learn to put the brakes on yourself ?"
Amanda allowed that she'd "think on it some" (SS # 31).
Whatever Amanda may have thought, she couldn't have anticipated that Flo Crowly, her cousin's daughter, would perish on a Squad mission (SS # 36). In a deep state of depression (# 37), Amanda was unprepared when word was leaked to the press that she was still running the Squad. After orchestrating a final, bloody raid on the leaders of the mystical Loa, she ordered the remained Squad members to flee and surrendered to police custody. Mystified by her docile behavior, Sarge Steel observed that "it's almost like she WANTS to go to jail" (# 39).
One year later, Sarge Steel approached Amanda with the news that a political situation had arisen that required the Suicide Squad's services. She agreed with the stipulation that she be released from prison immediately. "No strings. Presidential pardon. I get access to prisoners with the same deal as before. Batman helps me on this case. Oh -- and you give me a million dollars." Smoldering a bit, Steel said yes (SS # 40).
The Squad continued for several months, culminating in a mission in the island nation of Diabloverde against a rogue imitation of the team. Amanda announced that she was "shutting the Squad down," insisting that it was inherently flawed and that she'd been "too stubborn -- too proud -- to see it. ... All that's ahead would be more people, OUR people, getting killed. It's time to stop" (SS # 66).
Amanda was not, of course, the retiring type. She spearheaded efforts against Eclipso in the nation of Parador (Eclipso # 3, 5, 9, 11-16, 18), reorganized the Squad to lead an assault on the Silicon Dragons (Superboy # 13, 15) and recruited Doctor Polaris for defense efforts in the Sun-Eater crisis (The Final Night # 1). Amanda eventually brought the Squad under the umbrella of the Department of Extranormal Operations (Hawk & Dove (fourth series) # 4-5; Chase # 2). Within months, she agreed to take the position of Southeast Regional Director with the D.E.O. while still retaining control of the Suicide Squad (Secret Files & Origins Guide To The DC Universe 2000 # 1). And now, she's part of President Luthor's Cabinet as Secretary of Meta-Human Affairs (Superman # 166), a position she first utilized by ordering a probe of Project Cadmus (Superboy # 84).
Lex Luthor was evil. Amanda Waller knew it. But she'd known many evil men, from movers and shakers in Washington to former members of the Suicide Squad. Indeed, she recalled a secret cabal of high-ranking officials who'd conspired to control the metahuman community -- and the President's fervent denial that he was involved (SS # 62). As she and Sarge Steel had left the Oval Office that day, Amanda reflected on Adam Cray, the latest death from within her ranks.
"Every day, I go back and I remember the names and faces of those who've died since I started the Squad. Every day I number the dead. I know how they died, and why. others may die. I may die. We all know that going in. But I never take it lightly. Never will. Never. I wish I could say that everyone we've worked for felt the same."
Black Spiders and Superflies
"Life is sacred. They taught me that at Sunday School a long time ago. Of course, I didn't listen. Bet you didn't know I was a church kid, huh, Batman ? But I was. Mom and Dad used to send me every Sunday, until Mom died. Then Dad sort of drifted away. It was like a part of him had died. He didn't have much time for me anymore.
"I guess that's when I found the streets. And heroin. Why start ? I've asked myself that a hundred times, and the best I can do is: why not ? I missed my Mom. Dad was drinking. The other guys did it. I wanted to be a rebel, too. And to be honest, I liked it. At first. It helped to fill the black, aching hole inside me." -- from the last will and testament of Eric Neeham (Shadow of The Bat # 5).
The background of the man who would become known as the Black Spider was revealed piecemeal by Gerry Conway over the course of three issues, 1976's Detective Comics # 463 and 464 (art by Ernie Chan & Frank McLaughlin) and 1978's Batman # 306 (art by John Calnan & Dave Hunt), with further details being provided by Alan Grant in 1992's Batman: Shadow of The Bat # 5 (art by Norm Breyfogle). Historically, he was also DC's first black costumed villain though Black Manta would be retroactively established as African American in 1977's Adventure Comics # 452.
Eric was first sentenced to prison after mugging and nearly killing an elderly woman but, as a minor, he was out in three years. Over the next twenty-four months, Eric hooked up with another junkie named Linda Morrel and they had a son, Michael. Needham continued to steal to support his habit, culminating in a fateful liquor store robbery. Gunning down a customer who'd lunged for him, Eric realized far too late that he'd just murdered his own father.
Months later, Gotham's drug dealers found themselves marked for death by a mysterious assassin. At the site of the second killing, Batman confronted the sniper and was stunned to hear the man in the dark purple body-suit declare that "I've been trying to emulate you, Batman, to do as you do -- bring scum to permanent justice -- justice without recourse! .... The drug-dealers -- the superflies -- are the dregs of the Earth -- and what better man to catch and kill a superfly -- than a Black Spider ?"
Batman again failed to stop the rampage at the Gotham International Airport. Here, the Black Spider displayed the latest addition to his arsenal, a gun mounted on the top of his wrist that fired a deadly "sting" at his targets.
The conflict came to a head atop a speeding commuter train, where the Spider, whose background had finally been unearthed by the Dark Knight, was attempting to bomb the car carrying another dealer: "That motorman's gotta die, and if some punk commuters gotta die, too -- that's tough!" A lurch of the train sent the Black Spider and his bomb flying from the car. Needham was presumed dead when the bomb was detonated.
Gravely injured, Needham made his way to a free clinic, where "hate nursed me through the months of operations...and recovery...and therapy...and re-training..." The bomb, it seems, had gone off prematurely. Needham had been bankrolled by a supposedly benevolent financier named Hannibal Hardwicke, who was, in fact, a major druglord himself. Once the Black Spider removed his competition, Hardwicke had intended for Needham to die. Instead, Hardwicke found himself at the top of the Black Spider's "Most Wanted" list and only Batman's intervention allowed him to survive to see a prison term.
Inevitably, Needham's goals became compromised and he found himself allied with villains that he might otherwise have opposed to participate in grudge matches against Batman (Detective # 526 and Batman # 400). Even when Batman was absent from Gotham during the case that led to the formation of the Outsiders, the Black Spider found costumed opposition in the form of the beautiful Nightshade (Secret Origins # 28).
With Linda Morrel was still firmly in heroin's grip, the Spider's next targets were the men who were supplying her with the drugs. As the war escalated, both Linda and Michael were murdered and Needham went on a suicide run, determined to take down everyone. Dying from multiple bullet wounds, the Spider was dragged before the gloating druglord only to have Needham reveal his trump card. He'd attached plastique explosives to himself. "I'm ... wired to blow! ... right about ... now!" And he did.
The Black Spider's name would survive, though now in the hands of a mob assassin named Johnny LaMonica, an egomaniac who hated to cover his beautiful face with a mask. After infiltrating the Black Mask's mob with the intention of killing the crimelord, the new Black Spider was brought down by Batman. Having smashed into a broken mirror, his handsome face was now a "web of scars" (1995's Batman # 518-519, by Doug Moench, Kelley Jones and John Beatty).
Meanwhile, Eric Needham's story was not quite over. In Hell, Lucifer had, for reasons of his own, set all the dead free, a turn of events that would eventually lead many back to Earth (Sandman # 23). Eventually, the angels Duma and Remiel took charge of the dark realm. By then, most of the dead had returned (Sandman # 28). Most, but not all.
Eric had no intention of going back and seems to have struck an unholy bargain to remain of Earth. In time, he seemed to have become a successful businessman, though he kept the specifics of the business vague. Ominously, he frequented a nightclub overseen by Lucifer himself (Sandman # 57, 59). As the Black Spider, Eric was last seen with other villains hoping to strike a deal with the demonic Neron (Underworld Unleashed # 1, page 27, panel 2). The consequences of that conference have yet to be disclosed.
A Symbol For The People
Once upon a time, there was a world where costumed men and women dressed in colorful costumes took to the streets and fought crime. The heroes flourished in the 1940s but their numbers had dwindled by the 1970s. Their hair had turned gray and one of the greatest of their generation -- The Batman -- had died (1978's Adventure Comics # 462). A relative handful of heroes -- including the Huntress, daughter of the Dark Knight -- stood poised to replace them.
It's one thing to read about crime in the newspaper but it's quite another to experience it first hand. Such was the case with Charles Bullock, a young African American lawyer recently added to the roster of Gotham City's Cranston, Grayson and Wayne in 1981 (Wonder Woman # 281-284, by Paul Levitz, Joe Staton and Steve Mitchell). When a super-villain named Karnage attacked the law offices in search of senior partner Arthur Cranston, Bullock rushed forward to oppose the intruder only to be swatted away like a fly (# 286-287, by Levitz, Staton and Bruce Patterson).
Karnage was soon brought to justice by the Huntress (secretly Helena Wayne, another partner in the firm) and Arthur Cranston tried to assure Charles that he had nothing to be ashamed of. "You're a lawyer," he said, "not a bouncer." The young man was not appeased, however. "I have some heavy thinking to do ... about the way Karnage's attack is going to change my life" (WW # 289). Digging through the firm's library, Charles found "a fairly complete file on The Huntress in the clippings. Good. I wonder if it has everything I need ..." (WW # 290, by Levitz, Staton and Mike DeCarlo).
Levitz's plans for Charles Bullock were never realized and it fell to his successor, Joey Cavalieri, to resolve the subplot in the latter half of 1982. The "Huntress" episode in WW # 297 opened with Charles witnessing a pair of hoods harrassing a local grocer. "What can we do about it ?" the old man asked. "We're too small to fight them. In the old days, there was The Batman, God rest his soul. He was there to protect people like us. Saw to it slime like that didn't get into the neighborhood. But now, who stands up for people like us ? What can we do ... ?" For Charles Bullock, it was a call to arms.
The following evening, a bat-scalloped shadow fell over the thugs, momentarily stopping them -- and a concealed Huntress -- in their tracks. The source of the shadow was a man in a variation of The Batman's costume -- light blue replacing the gray, a more stylized bat chest emblem and utility belt, yellow bands around his wrists and calves and a sharply arched yellow-tipped face mask that evoked bat-ears in silhouette. His dark blue cape functioned as a hang-glider. "Stand back!" he commanded. "None may threaten the people of this city while Blackwing stands!"
Unhappily, Blackwing was grounded almost immediately when one of the thugs partially shredded his cape/glider. The would-be hero was beaten into unconsciousness and unmasked. Watching from a distance, the Huntress recognized Charles instantly (WW # 297, art by Staton and Sal Trapani).
Blackwing was presented to the mastermind behind the gang, a snake charmer of sorts named the Boa. The Huntress crashed the party and was left to the mercies of a boa constrictor as the villains made their exit. Blackwing, who'd been feigning unconsciousness, used a dagger to slash the serpent and free the Huntress (WW # 298-299, art by Staton and Frank McLaughlin).
"I was a top notch lawyer," he explained, "but that only gave me a ring-side seat as I watched criminals slide through the revolving door of justice. I felt the need to do something more -- something lasting! My hero had always been The Batman. The heart of this town nearly quit beating altogether when he died. But then The Huntress swung into action -- and I knew in my guts that if she could do it -- I could, too!" (WW # 298)
"Maybe it was stupid but I became Blackwing to be that symbol for people again ... to restore their pride in Gotham ... and spur them to take charge of this city once more. I tried to think the way The Batman would. I had the presence of mind to keep my miniature tape recorder in my utility belt running ever since I was kidnapped."
"Evidence!" The Huntress exclaimed. "Good work, Charley. We'll nail them yet. You would've made The Batman very proud, Charley. You've certainly made me proud." The daughter of The Batman captured the Boa and his gang that night (WW # 299) but Charles never took to the sky as Blackwing again.
And, yet, history may yet see the Bullock name enshrined as a costumed hero. A Gotham youngster named Charlie Bullock, possibly a namesake cousin of Charles, had crossed paths with Wildcat three years earlier on a late winter's evening in 1979. Charlie proved to be a natural fighter and helped the Justice Society member take down a quartet of muggers.
Wildcat realized that kids like Charlie could achieve great things with a little positive reinforcement. Pulling off his mask, Ted Grant introduced himself to Charlie and decided, in that moment, that he would leave his JSA responsibilities to become a mentor to any of the youth in Gotham that he could help. Announcing his leave of absence, Ted noted that "Someone's gotta start worrying where the next generation of super-heroes is coming from" (Adventure Comics # 464, by Levitz and Staton). Will Charlie Bullock return as the Blackwing of the current DC Universe ? Only time -- and future issues of JSA -- will tell.
What A Croc!
The muscular man burst into Wayne Manor, catching Alfred Pennyworth by surprise and rendering him unconscious in a matter of moments. "Get it straight," he'd said earlier in the evening. "I'm doin' this for one reason only ... to break The Batman's back." Years before Bane came on the scene, there was Killer Croc.
Croc was an African American who was well acquainted with the taunts and beatings of others from an early age. "He was born thirty-five years ago in a Tampa slum area near the 22nd-Street Causeway and though the name on his birth certificate reads Waylon Jones, by the time he was ten, all the neighborhood kids were calling him -- Croc. No parents ... living with a dead-beat aunt who spent more time in jail on D-and-D charges than she did at home ... alienated and cursed with a hideous skin disease ... is it any wonder the kid went bad ?"
Jones was a regular visitor to the juvenile detention center and was finally tried and convicted as an adult when he was sixteen. He killed a prisoner who mocked his appearance but nonetheless was out on parole "after eighteen years behind bars. Out of prison, he found a job in a carnival sideshow ... wrestling alligators" (Batman # 359). "I broke their backs with my bare hands," Jones later recalled. "Then I got smart. I had the strength, I had the hate -- why shouldn't I use it to get what I wanted ? 'Killer Croc' -- that's what they called me. But some day, some day, I knew they'd call me king!" (Batman # 358).
Croc had formed powerful mob ties in Tampa that he was anxious to capitalize on elsewhere. He'd discreetly established a foothold in Gotham and assembled a gang before returning to Florida to take care of "some personal loose ends." After snapping the neck of the deputy who brutally beat him when he was ten (noted in Batman # 359), he returned to discover that his followers had affiliated themselves with the simple-minded Solomon Grundy. Croc kept his temper in check but left the gang to its fate. Within hours, the entire crew was killed when Grundy flew into a rage (Detective # 523, by Gerry Conway, Gene Colan and Tony DeZuniga).
Croc shifted his allegiance to the Squid, a mobster who was poised to fill the power vacuum in Gotham's underworld left by the downfall of Rupert Thorne (Batman # 354) and Tony Falco. Initially, Croc was content to work a protection racket at the visiting Sloan Circus (Batman # 357, by Conway, Don Newton and Alfredo Alcala) but he soon wanted more. After he witnessed Batman's escape from a deathtrap, Croc sauntered away, informing the would-be crimelord that "this outfit smells of loser."
The Squid was furious, shaking Croc by the lapels of his jacket and knocking off his hat to reveal red eyes and reptilian green flesh. "Nobody touches Croc, little man," he snarled. "Especially not a five-cent hood like you." Jones' sharp eyes spotted the concealed Dark Knight as he made his exit but he kept his silence. Returning later in the night, Croc fired a high-powered rifle at the Squid. Looking down at the corpse, Waylon Jones smiled. "Like I said -- nobody threatens Croc" (Detective # 524, by Conway, Newton and Dick Giordano).
While Batman began tracing the gun that killed the Squid, Croc approached the members of Gotham's Tobacconist Club and announced his intention to take over the city's mobs. The president of club's inner circle proposed a test and directed Jones towards a state-of-the-art Air Force Computer at S.T.A.R. Labs.
"Mister, I was born a freak -- I've had to prove myself to creeps like you all my life. I could break you in half. But that wouldn't get me what I want ... so I'll steal your crummy computer. And then I'll shove it down your fat throat."
The robbery was a success and, after a cursory "we'll be in touch" from the movers and shakers, Croc returned to his apartment. Seated in an easy chair, The Batman was waiting. Jones went ballistic, lunging at the Dark Knight and screaming that "this was my place, my special place! Built this place -- my home -- nobody could call me a freak here! But you've spoiled it -- you ruined it!" Firing his gun into a space heater, Croc watched the room go up in flames before he plunged into the river (1983's Batman # 358, by Conway, Curt Swan and Rodin Rodriguez).
A natural swimmer, Jones threw off his business suit and stripped down to red briefs to maneuver more easily. The killer toyed with Batman in the water, striking and choking him and leaving only when he thought the Dark Knight had drowned. "I thought you were tough," he sneered. "Someone I could respect. But you're nothing but a loser, like all the rest" (Detective # 525, by Conway, Dan Jurgens and Giordano).
Croc issued a summons to the chiefs of Gotham's mobs for a meeting at the Gotham Zoo's reptile house two nights later. Attendance was not optional. Still wearing his red shorts, Jones walked amongst the alligators and addressed the crowd as King Croc. His claims to have killed The Batman were ridiculed, however, and the mobsters contained to pledge allegiance to the jailed Tony Falco. Determined to make the mobs his own, a knife-wielding Croc broke into prison and slashed Falco to ribbons. Batman traded blows with Croc for a third time but with no more success.
Elsewhere, Joe and Trina Todd, a pair of acrobats from the Sloan Circus, were doing some investigating of their own. They'd agreed to help Robin break the protection racket that the circus had been threatened by and took off in pursuit of one of the mob enforcers. Untrained in the art of surveillance, the Todds were spotted immediately by their subject and a warm welcome awaited the husband and wife when they crept into the reptile house. The lights flashed on and Joe and Trina found themselves on a stage before an audience of mobsters -- a stage they shared with an approaching Croc (Batman # 359, by Conway, Jurgens and Giordano).
Robin arrived at the reptile house alongside Batgirl and was greeted by a gray Commissioner Gordon. When the Teen Wonder inquired about the Todds' welfare, the veteran cop was horrified that he'd involved civilians in the case. Directing him to their corpses, lying amidst the crocodiles, Gordon said, "We can only hope they were already dead when he threw them to his friends below. You brought them into this, Robin. It's on your head." In a state of hysteria, Robin plunged into the pit, beating the reptiles aside with the butt of a gun, cradling Trina Todd's corpse in his arms and unleashing an agonized, grief-stricken scream.
Elsewhere, the Joker was attempting to cement his status in the Gotham mob's new hierarchy. On one hand, he'd mobilized the long-established super-villains of the city to kill Batman before the upstart Croc could do so. On the other, he revealed the plot to Croc (minus his own role), gambling that the opposing forces would take each other out and leave the field clear for him.
Talia and Catwoman had alerted the Dark Knight to the looming attacks on his life and the trio wound up in the abandoned Adams Brewery. They ended up being captured anyway, all three chained to a faulty brewing vat that was likely to erupt when it got hot enough. Croc stepped past a gloating Joker and demanded that Batman be released so that they could fight out their differences "man to man." As for Talia and Catwoman, Croc answered, "You win, they live. You lose, they die. Simple as that."
This time, Batman came out on top, freeing himself from Croc and sending the thug reeling with a steel barrel thrown into his torso. "No!" the reptile man shrieked. "Nobody ever broke my grip -- nobody!"
"That was your mistake, Croc -- my name isn't 'nobody!'"
Forgotten in all this was Joe and Trina Todd's acrobatic young son, Jason, who'd tumbled onto the Batcave after Dick Grayson left him at Wayne Manor. An unapologetic thrill-seeker and concerned for his parents' safety, Jason put together a variation of Robin's costume and headed in the direction of the Adams Brewery. He arrived just behind Robin and Batgirl, who revealed the horrifying news of the Todds' demise to Batman.
Leaping from a rafter, Jason knocked a ten-foot pipe from Croc's hand, allowing Batman to get in a final punch to the killer's chin. In a state of rage, Jason struck blow after blow on the reptile man before Batgirl and Robin pulled him away.
In the aftermath, Bruce Wayne did his best to console Dick Grayson but the young man would be haunted by the faces of Joe and Trina Todd every time he wore the Robin costume from that point on. Dick was insistent on adopting the orphaned teenager but Bruce wouldn't hear of it. As man and boy walked onto the grounds of Wayne Manor, Alfred whispered "My goodness. Master Dick, you don't suppose ... ?"
"I think you'd better open up my old room, Alfred." (Detective # 526, by Conway, Newton and Alcala)
A new era was about to begin. The next months were full of excitement for Jason Todd, who fought for and ultimately won the right to be the new Robin.
Killer Croc returned in 1986, part of a corps of villains freed from prison by Ra's al Ghul to capture those close to The Batman. Croc, delighted at the prospect of snapping the Dark Knight's spine, dutifully abducted Alfred from Wayne Manor, unaware that he was kidnapping Batman's butler. Jason Todd seethed at the thought of his parents' killer running free and, mercifully, was absent when Batman took down Croc with a gas pellet from his utility belt (Batman # 400, by Doug Moench, George Perez, Art Adams & Terry Austin and Ken Steacy).
The 1987 revamping of Jason Todd's origin in Batman # 408-411 erased the second Robin's circus origins and Killer Croc from the post-Crisis Dark Knight's history. And yet, a scant two months after Batman # 411, Croc was back.
He and Batman fought across a two-page sequence in Swamp Thing # 66 (by Rick Veitch and Alfredo Alcala), smashing into the office of Arkham Asylum administrator Robert Huntoon. "Doctor," Batman reported. "This thing goes by the name of Killer Croc. He just murdered thirty innocent people with an incendiary device in midtown. Lock him up."
Croc was far from defeated, rising to hammer the Dark Knight with a series of crushing blows while delivering a Hulk-like monologue: "Rodent not superhuman like Croc! Rodent soft as jelly! Breaks easy ... tastes goooood!" Reflecting the grim, violent tenor of the times, Batman sprayed him nerve gas and informed Huntoon that "this man shouldn't give you any more problems ... unless it's from a wheelchair."
The events of Detective # 523-526, et al. were still largely canonical, after all, with details such as his skin condition and wrestler origins (The Demon (third series) # 11) and his ousting of the Squid (Batman # 489) being specifically cited. Eventually, it would even be revealed that Croc had made a second attempt at taking over the Gotham mobs, coming into conflict with Black Mask (mentioned in Robin # 71). Notably absent from the post-Crisis account were, in addition to Joe and Trina Todd, Dick Grayson himself, who failed to recognize Waylon Jones' name prior to going up against Croc in Batman # 512.
The idiot strongman routine was a fake, though, as Veitch (with art by Brett Ewins) revealed a few months later in Secret Origins # 23. "Can you imagine," he thought, "putting me in an institution for the criminally insane ? Actually it's my own fault. I've always projected the old 'mindless engine of destruction' image to others." By playing a brain-damaged, bound patient at Arkham, Croc was privy to all manner of secret, from guards who stole drugs or were involved in a sinister conspiracy to the innermost thoughts of Jason Woodrue, whom he regarded as a friend.
Supposedly paralyzed for life thanks to his exposure to the nerve gas, Croc awoke with a start from a nap and realized that he could move his neck. Stunned by his good fortune, he decided to keep the discovery to himself. "Yes. I'm healing. Just like a good reptile. Let them think I'm a basket case. Soon I'll jump up, murder a few for good measure, and walk out of here ..."
By 1989, the truth had come out (though the amount of blood shed is unknown) and Croc was placed in solitary confinement, exercising regularly to maintain his wrestler's physique (Detective # 604). He even managed to engage in battle with Batman once more while the Joker had temporary taken control of Arkham. Croc suffered a nasty spear wound in the course of the conflict (Arkham Asylum, by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean).
Temporarily back in a wheelchair, Croc was now restrained with steel clamps on his wrists and ankles. Tired of faking madness, he snapped at a doctor who referred to him as Killer. "That's Mister Croc to you, chump. An' I'll tell ya somethin' else -- I shouldn't even be here. I ain't crazy!" The unexpected arrival of a demon conjured by fellow inmate Tenzin Wyatt gave Croc the opportunity he was looking for to escape (1991's The Demon # 11, by Alan Grant, Val Semeiks and Denis Rodier).
A brief alliance with the Riddler ended with capture by Superman (Legends of the World's Finest # 2) and Croc was soon back in Arkham (# 3). Subjected to numerous sessions of electroshock therapy, Croc finally tore loose of his restraints, screaming that "I'm Killer Croc! This brain ain't for fryin'!"
Fleeing to an abandoned subway tunnel beneath Gotham, Croc found refuge with other street persons. For the first time in his life, Waylon Jones had found people who accepted him as he was, including a surrogate mother he called Aunt Marcy who gently patted his head as the tormented man rested in her arms.
Croc's thefts of food and appliances for his new family eventually led Batman and "bat-hound" Ace to the sewers. Croc reacted just as violently as he had on the last occasion that his home had been invaded. The long-overdue rematch between the two was abruptly curtailed when the Dark Knight revealed that new water tunnels were being opened that night. As the flood began roaring towards them, Croc and Batman put their backs into holding up the deteriorating walls until the rest of the family could seek higher ground. Aunt Marcy slipped and Croc insisted that Batman rescue her.
As water began pouring past him, the green man defiantly shouted that "I'm Killer Croc! I can do anythin'! This is my home! Ain't nobody takin' it away from me!" It was not enough. As the flood swept him away, Croc's shell-shocked, weeping family, led by Aunt Marcy, began to sing the lullaby that had soothed their friend: "Hush little baby, don't say a word -- Mommy's gonna buy you a mockingbird ..." (Detective # 471, by Grant and Norm Breyfogle)
Croc had survived, living on rats and river water and existing for weeks without human companionship. When a group of derelicts stumbled onto him and ran in terror from the "monster," all of the taunts from Waylon's youth flooded back into his fogged brain. In a state of delirium, Croc went on a rampage through Gotham, imagining that everyone from the people on the streets to the mannequins in storefronts were his childhood tormenters.
The reign of terror attracted Tim Drake (the third Robin), Jean-Paul Valley (dressed as Batman) ... and Bane. After nearly crushing "Batman's" rib-cage, Croc turned his attention to Bane, who wished to test the marauder's mettle. Powered by Venom, Bane effortlessly broke both of his opponent's arms and left as quietly as he'd come (Batman # 489, by Doug Moench and Jim Aparo).
Within days, Bane had freed the inmates of Arkham and Croc, his arms wrapped in fresh casts, was among the escapees (Batman # 491). Thirsting for revenge, Croc used his enhanced senses to zoom in on Bane's scent and interrupted the Santa Priscan villain's interrogation of Robin. Without an infusion of Venom in his system, Bane suffered a few rough blows before recovering and smashing Croc's right arm again. Locked in combat, they fell into the rushing waters of the sewer (Detective # 660, by Chuck Dixon, Jim Balent and Scott Hanna) and Croc vanished underwater once more (Batman # 494).
Elsewhere, Killer Croc was among the villains featured in Batman: The Animated Series. With vocals by Aron Kincaid, Croc debuted in October 5, 1992's "Vendetta" and was later prominently featured in May 3, 1994's "Sideshow," a rewrite of a 1971 O'Neil-Adams story from Detective # 410 that Croc fit seemlessly into. A later episode, 1998's "Love Is A Croc," revolved around Waylon's romance with Baby-Doll. Brooks Gardner took over the role of Killer Croc with that episode. In the comics based on the series, Croc was spotlighted in two character-based episodes, one dealing with his friendship with his wrestling manager (1993's Batman Adventures # 7) and the other with his one-sided attraction to reporter Summer Gleeson (1997's Batman & Robin Adventures # 23).
Back in the mainstream DCU, Killer Croc was lurking near the Gotham River, his broken limbs healing rapidly during the weeks since his beating by Bane. A succession of deaths near the river led Robin to conclude that the culprit was the missing villain and he and the latest temporary Batman (Dick Grayson) took off to investigate. Going toe-to-toe with Croc for the first time, Dick acquitted himself nicely, breaking free of the ex-wrestler's back-breaking hold by clapping his hand around the green man's ears (Batman # 512, by Moench, Mike Gustovich and Romeo Tanghal).
As he recovered from multiple gunshot wounds sustained in that last adventure, Croc found himself dreaming of a more serene existence in the swamps (Showcase '95 # 11) and, his mental faculties now truly reduced to Hulk-level proportions, broke out of Arkham. Croc found himself instinctively drawn to Houma, Louisiana and Batman was close behind, following the trail of wreckage (1995's Batman # 521). As the Dark Knight prepared to capture his foe, both men were stopped by the Swamp Thing, who revealed that he had summoned Croc to the bayou.
In his current state of mind, Croc was regarded as "a primordial being" whose "madness and torment ... his fierce yearning for a place of peace ... his piteous rage ... has created a profound disturbance in the Green." Swamp Thing called Waylon Jones to his home and "changed him. He will kill now ... only for food ... only to exist as part of this swamp ...where it could take a man years to find him ... yet I will know where he is ... I will always know ... through the consciousness of the Green. And if ever again ... he becomes a threat to the world of man ... I will make you aware of it."
Reluctantly, Batman accepted the proposition and left (Batman # 522, by Moench, Kelley Jones and John Beatty). The swamp environment proved less than ideal. The Swamp Thing, distracted by his ascension through a series of elemental parliaments, had little patience for his new guest, physically strking Croc to teach him "his place ... in the pecking order of the swamp" (Swamp Thing # 160, by Mark Millar, Phillip Hester and Kim DeMulder). It was one more bully in a life that had seen too many and Waylon Jones hopped the next train out of Houma, enjoying a prize bull for a meal en route to Gotham (Batman Chronicles # 3, by Dixon, Gabriel Gecko and Robert Campanella).
A more mellow Croc took up residence in Gotham's underground, his solitary existence interrupted by a wounded Man-Bat, whom he offered food and sympathy. As his house guest flew off, Waylon cautioned him to "watch yourself out there this time, okay ? It's a rough world, pal" (1996's Man-Bat # 2).
Inevitably, Croc was recaptured (by Wolverine, of all people, in Marvel Versus DC # 2). He escaped one prison for another when Lock-Up and the Fabulous Ernie Chubb made Waylon Jones one of the feature attractions in a murderous pay-per-view series of wrestling matches. Thanks to weeks of torturous, abusive treatment, Killer Croc again lived up to his name (1997's Batman/Wildcat # 1, 3; by Dixon & Beau Smith, Sergio Cariello and Dan Miki).
Once Batman had hauled him in after a botched robbery (Resurrection Man # 7), Croc settled into a comfortable routine at Arkham, his mental stability actually helped by the regular interaction with other people for the first time in years. He watched "Seinfeld" (Hitman # 3), formed a close friendship with environmentalist and kindred spirit Poison Ivy (Batman: Poison Ivy), played cards with the Ventriloquist and the Mad Hatter (Batman 80-Page Giant # 2) and joined in the regular inmate uprisings (Batman: Arkham Asylum - Tales of Madness # 1; The Creeper # 7-8; Batman Villains Secret Files # 1).
Part of Croc's docile behavior was due to the regular supply of sedatives prescribed to him at Arkham. With the asylum in disarray following the Gotham earthquake, the Joker quietly slipped into the computerized records files and began changing the precriptions. Suddenly, Croc was receiving amphetamines six times a day (Batman: Shadow of The Bat # 80). The geared-up Croc eventually killed fellow inmate Pinhead during a grudge match (# 81) and escaped with the other criminals just as Gotham was declared a "No Man's Land" (# 82; by Grant, Mark Buckingham and Campanella).
As various parties began to seize different sections of their own, Croc became "a nomad, fighting whomever he finds" (Batman: No Man's Land # 1). He also put together his own gang (glimpsed in Batman: Shadow of The Bat # 86 and Detective # 737) and, for the first time in years, began entertaining thoughts of calling himself King Croc again. He was not pleased, to say the least, at news that a good samaritan providing services to the disenfranchised of Gotham was being referred to as the King. Croc tracked down the so-called King -- a reformed crook named Stanley Demchaszky -- and threatened to kill him. For the second time during the NML (the first being in Batman Chronicles # 17), Batman traded punches with Croc. He ended up sending the green man on a four-story tumble from a building with debris raining down on him. "He's survived worse," the Dark Knight thought. "It'll just put another dent in his ego" (Shadow of The Bat # 89, by Ian Edginton, Jason Miller and Sal Buscema).
Croc had characteristically formed close bonds with the men in his gang and was outraged when one of them was critically injured by serial killer Mr. Zsasz. Though desperate to kill Zsasz, himself a patient of Doctor Leslie Thompkins, Croc agreed to abide by the cease-fire that she had declared in the makeshift hospital. All bets were off when Zsasz escaped. Batman separated the two killers as they wrapped their hands around each other's throats, restraining Zsasz while Croc escaped (Batman Chronicles # 18, by Devin Grayson, Dale Eaglesham and Jaime Mendoza & John Floyd).
As the NML was winding down, Croc was preparing to return to the persona of gang lord that he'd once craved. Now wearing an expensive designer suit, he proclaimed to his followers that "I ain't going back to the sewers! That's over! That's history! I'm not going back to that! You with me on this ? I used to run this town 'til the cops and Blackmask and Bane hounded me into the sewers. And I blame nobody but myself! But I'm Killer Croc, damn it, and I'm back for what's mine!"
Croc intended to "expand east and south and crush anybody who stands in the way." A crew that included Robin, the GCPD, Alfred Pennyworth and even the Penguin faced down the gang and the Boy Wonder managed to end the uprising by getting Croc to drop a car on himself (Robin # 71-72, by Chuck Dixon, Stza Johnson & Gordon Purcell and Wayne Faucher).
With order restored in Gotham, Croc was again reduced to committing burglaries (Batman: Gotham Knights # 3) interspersed with stays in Arkham (B:GK # 5; Batman # 584). His NML experiences have emboldened him, though, giving Killer Croc an appetite for power that convenience store heists just can't satisfy. "I'm back, baby!" he announced during Robin # 72. "The Croc is back to stay!"
The Winner of Western Comics
He was DC's first Native American star ... and one of its best.
The story of Pow-Wow Smith played out in the pages of DC's comics in reverse order, beginning in the present before moving to the past. Created by Don Cameron (who wrote at least the first six episodes) and Carmine Infantino, the Indian lawman operated during 1949-1953 in Detective Comics # 151 to 202. Infantino left after ten episodes and Leonard Starr (# 161, 163, 175-202) and Bruno Premiani (# 162, 164-174) continued as artists on the series.
In 1953, the series was relocated to Western Comics, where Julius Schwartz replaced Jack Schiff as editor with # 43. Returning to the character he'd launched was Schwartz stalwart Infantino, who pencilled (and frequently inked) the series for the duration of its Western run. France Herron scripted the first half (# 43-60) while Gardner Fox wrote the latter (# 61-85).
Pow-Wow's arrival in the book was heralded on the cover, where he became the new lead feature, bumping the previous star, the Wyoming Kid, to the back of the book. Gone altogether was the Cowboy Marshal series. With Pow-Wow's second installment (# 44), the series underwent another alteration when the locale was moved back seventy years to the 1880s.
As related in Who's Who '86 # 18, "Sioux Indian brave Ohiyesa ('The Winner') left Red Deer Valley and his tribe to learn more about the world of the white man. His expert skills at tracking and handling a gun enabled him to win a job as deputy sheriff ... While still a deputy, Ohiyesa was given the name Pow-Wow Smith by some townspeople. Though he used his Indian name with the tribe, he eventually began to call himself Pow-Wow when among the white men. Once he became sheriff, Pow-Wow spent most of his time living in Elkhorn, only rarely returning to Red Deer Valley."
Gardner Fox deviated from the episodic nature of Herron's scripts and began to introduce recurring characters, the first of whom was Tony Morley, the Fadeaway Outlaw. Morley debuted in Western # 62 (1957) and returned in # 73 (1958). The Fadeaway Outlaw wasn't a true super-human but used a variety of tricks and disguises to make it seem that he could vanish.
Western # 73 also introduced Pow-Wow's deputy, Hank Brown, who had announced his intent to resign after he married his girl friend Sally Ann. Hank refused to leave until the Fadeaway Outlaw was in custody, much to his fiancee's chagrin. On the morning of the nuptials, the villain was captured and Pow-Wow made it to the church in time to serve as best man. Hank evidently changed his mind because he became a regular within a few issues, appearing in # 76 (mis-identified as Jim Hathaway), 77 and 79-83. Sally Ann Brown popped up in # 81.
Western # 78 (1959) featured a nice story about Pow-Wow's relationship with the people of Elkhorn. Young Tommy Walters, excited about his birthday party, asked the sheriff when his own birthday was. "I'm a Sioux," Pow-Wow explained. "and we don't know the exact day we are born. The closest I can get to my birth date is -- the second day after the big buffalo kill during the Month of Shedding Ponies (approximately May) in the Year of the Plenty Buffalo."
After listening to the story, Tommy's father decided to "get in touch with the territorial governor." In short order, the entire town of Elkhorn was conspiring to hold a surprise birthday party for the sheriff. When the big day arrived, the locals were on pins and needles as each new crisis threatened to take Pow-Wow away from the festivities. When he took off in pursuit of bank robbers that evening, the townspeople despaired that he'd never return in time.
With less than fifteen minutes until midnight, Pow-Wow locked the bandits in a cell only to hear dozens of voices singing "Happy Birthday" to him. He was presented with a scroll "signed by the President and Congress of the United States" that "makes you an honorary citizen of the United States and legally declares your birthday to be May 15th from now on." For the document to be binding, it had to be presented to the recipient on his designated birthday. As two of the local men raised Pow-Wow on their shoulders, the delighted sheriff proclaimed it "the most fantastic thing that ever has happened to me -- and the most wonderful!"
A footnote added that "it wasn't until 1924 that the Federal Congress passed legislation making citizens of all Indians born within the continental limiits of the U.S.A. Until then only individual Indians or tribes had been so honored."
The final four Western episodes (# 82-85) introduced Ohiyesa's fiancee, Fleetfoot. Issue # 84 expanded the family further with the introduction of Pow-Wow's twin brother, Horse Hunter. According to Sioux custom, "when twins are born, one of them is given away, to avert the anger of the evil spirits. My parents gave me to the Blackfeet to raise for their own." After seeing the sheriff's picture in a newspaper, Horse Hunter deduced what had happened and travelled to Elkhorn. Had Western not been discontinued with # 85 (1960), Pow-Wow's strip might well have played with some of the same plot devices as the recently discontinued "Trigger Twins" series.
Who's Who '86 # 18 revealed that Ohiyesa and Fleetfoot eventually married and that the Pow-Wow who appeared in Detective # 151-202 was their namesake descendant. "This Ohiyesa attended college in the east, then returned to Red Deer Valley, seeking to bring his tribe into the wondrous 20th Century. He too became a lawman and took the name Pow-Wow Smith, but he continued to live in Red Deer Valley."
The early 1970s saw a minor Western revival at DC and ten separate Pow-Wow Smith episodes were reprinted, most notably 1970's All-Star Western # 1, which was virtually a Pow-Wow solo book (reprinting Western # 80 and 73). Other reprints appeared in All-Star # 8, 9 and 11, DC Special # 6, Super DC Giant # S-15, Trigger Twins # 1 and Weird Western # 12.
The modern-day Pow-Wow returned in 1980's Detective Comics # 500 alongside several other crimefighters from the title's long history. The episode, by Len Wein and Jim Aparo, was a rewrite on an old Batman yarn ("The Case Batman Failed To Solve" from Batman # 14) in which multiple detectives joined forces to solve the murder of an associate.
Pow-Wow's 19th Century incarnation missed making an appearance in Crisis On Infinite Earths but he did manage to turn up with many of DC's other 1870s Western heroes in 1991's Armageddon: The Alien Agenda # 3.
Most recently, Chuck Dixon and Eduardo Barreto featured a possibly third-generation Pow-Wow ("It's United States Marshal Smith now.") in 1997's Robin Annual # 6. In a cute sequence, Smith astonished the modern counterpart of Nighthawk by looking at tire tracks and determining that the fugitive 20th Century Trigger Twins "came off the interstate a few miles north. '78 Cadillac Eldorado. Oklahoma plates. Stolen back in Tulsa."
"You can tell that from sign ?"
"It's in the Texas Rangers' report."
Pow-Wow and Nighthawk eventually ended up in Gotham, meeting Sheriff "Shotgun" Smith ("No relation, I reckon."), Robin and the Huntress before the Triggers were taken into custody.
Will Pow-Wow Smith's legacy extend into the future ? Only time (and Chuck Dixon) will tell.
Sunburst (x 6)
The death of Japanese super-hero Sunburst during the Great Crisis was a great blow to the country that he'd defended, doubly so when it was revealed that he had also been film star Takeo Sato. The powers that Sato had exhibited on screen -- flight, bursts of flame and bright light from his hands, the ability to generate small volcanoes -- had not been special effects. Years earlier, Sato had given his own account of how this had come to be:
"It started the day of my birth -- or so I am told. You see, I was born in a tiny village, within sight of an active volcano. On the day of my birth, the volcano was belching fumes prior to an eruption. Fumes, I imagine, that I inhaled with my first breath.
"I never knew of any effect they had on me, and I grew up normally. Then, as an adult, I decided to become an actor. I won the role of a costumed super-hero in a low-budget production, and I had to learn to 'fly' on wires. It was nearly my last day as well, for the wires holding me in the air snapped. I screamed in terror -- and next I knew, I was in flight! The studio decided to keep my powers a secret, preferring to release my super-stunts as state-of-the-art special effects" (1983's New Adventures of Superboy # 47, by Paul Kupperberg, Alex Saviuk and Kurt Schaffenberger).
Sunburst's natural powers eventually came to the attention of criminals, who abducted Takeo's parents and blackmailed him into going on a crime spree as Sunburst. The string of robberies soon drew the attention of Superboy, who found that there was "more to (the marauder's) arsenal than mere sun-power and flight -- such as superhuman speed and agility -- an incredible hardness of body and mighty strength."
After a series of skirmishes with the Boy of Steel, Sunburst seized on a moment of concealment to reveal the extortion plot and enlist Superboy in a plan to capture the kidnappers. After his parents were rescued, Takeo related his origin to Superboy and cursed the day he'd learned of his powers.
"Maybe I can help you with that, Takeo -- since it seems the secret to your power lies in knowing how to use it. But if I place a strong hypnotic block on that knowledge, your powers should slip back into dormancy." The plan was a success and the short career of Sunburst was brought to a close (NAOS # 45-47).
The post-Crisis version of Sunburst's origin, according to 1986's Who's Who # 22, involved Japan's native hero, the Rising Sun, rather than the now non-existent Superboy.
Flash forward a dozen or so years to Iran, where a wealthy oil baron named Omar had finally discovered the origin of a jeweled globe that had been in his family for centuries. "The eternal secret of total energy" was implanted in the sphere "by a man whose name has been lost to antiquity." It was given to Omar's ancestor for safe-keeping as the forces of Alexander the Great conquered Persia in 334 B.C.
After eight years of searching, Omar learned that the globe possessed "power enough to convert the sun's solar energy into a field of force -- transforming a man into a human sunburst, and giving (him) strength enough to recreate the Persian Empire." In a burst of energy, Omar adopted an armored uniform, his exposed flesh turned blood red and his hair became a mane of fire.
En route to the United Nations to deliver an ultimatum, the flying Sunburst had a chance encounter with a distraught Aquaman, only hours after the murder of his son. The Sea King was swiftly defeated by the villain, who left him for dead in the desert. Unable to use his aquatic powers, Aquaman found a small basin of water that he rationed as he walked through the desert night. Spotting a plane on the horizon, he used a metal can to make a glare and catch the pilot's attention. "There's a certain irony here: sunlight was used to trap this man, and now, appropriately, sunlight is used to free him."
Arriving in Bakushi, Iran, Aquaman found Sunburst making new threats at an embassy. Dodging the villain's heat-vision, the Sea King declared that "my desert experience taught me a man has other powers than those based in his body -- and those powers -- his wit and cunning -- are the greatest powers of all!" Pulling out a mirror, Aquaman reflected Sunburst's powers back at him, burning out the solar tyrant's might (1977's DC Special Series # 1 -- a.k.a. "Five Star Super-Hero Spectacular" -- by Gerry Conway, Dick Dillin and Jack Abel).
Within a few years, Earth -- and the universe itself -- found itself imperilled by the threat of the Anti-Monitor. Heroes from all over the globe were mobilized, including Japan's Doctor Light, the Rising Sun ... and Sunburst. Through circumstances unknown, Takeo's knowledge of using his powers had returned and he gallantly joined the defense efforts. Sunburst was killed in the skies over Tokyo, struck down by a Shadow-Demon (1985's Crisis On Infinite Earths # 12, by Marv Wolfman, George Perez and Jerry Ordway).
Within months, the Sunburst name had been appropriated by a third person. Timothy Walton had designed golden body armor, complete with glider wings, that was powered by solar energy. Its defensive capabilities included bursts of force and solar energy channelled through his hands. Unfortunately for the would-be criminal mastermind, he attracted the attention of the Teen Titans almost immediately and was ultimately blasted from the sky by Starfire's own solar energy bolts.
The story might have ended there had the entire conflict not been observed by the Wildebeest. The villain stole Walton's armor, used it to kill a business rival and created a situation in which it appeared that Starfire had accidentally slain the man herself. Thanks to Nightwing's detective skills, the plot was exposed (1987's New Teen Titans # 36-37, by Wolfman, Eduardo Barreto and Romeo Tanghal). Sunburst's armor, however, was never recovered and presumably was adapted into the Wildebeest's catalog of weapons.
Meanwhile, in Japan, the legend of Sunburst was being continued by a media savvy successor, whose every action was televised on "The Adventures of The New Sunburst," described as "the country's most popular television show." Clad in a costume loosely modelled after Takeo's, the new Sunburst could channel solar energy through his hands but the full extent of his powers is unknown. In 1989, Sunburst suffered a humilating defeat at the hands of the soon-to-be Brotherhood of Dada (Doom Patrol # 26, by Grant Morrison, Richard Case and John Nyberg).
The legend of Takeo Sato was also revisited by Paul Kupperberg in 1991's Superboy # 18 (art by Jim Mooney and Kim DeMulder), set within the continuity of the live-action TV series. In this version, Takeo was a film student at Shuster University who produced and starred in the amateur production "Sunburst Over Tokyo." Takeo had discovered a talisman in Japan that granted him solar powers but members of the Yakuza tracked him to the U.S. hoping to use the amulet for themselves. Superboy defeated one of the solar-powered thugs and returned the talisman to Takeo, suggesting that the young man use the power altruistically.
Instead, the aspiring filmmaker smashed the jewel, declaring that "I picked my destiny years ago, when I decided to become a Spielberg instead of a Superboy." As the Boy of Steel began to argue that someone else could have used the talisman for good, Takeo pointed out that it could just as easily fall into evil hands.
By the earlier 21st Century, groups of freedom fighters known as Team Titans were being mobilized to combat the threat posed by Lord Chaos by being sent back in time. One such agent was code-named Sunburst, whose "whole team was killed in the time-transfer." On top of that, Sunburst had arrived three years earlier than intended. "All (he) could do was wait." The solar Titan could encase himself in a fiery force bubble and, like most of the men who previously held his name, was capable of generating solar blasts through his hands. In 1993, Sunburst was attacked by a Chaos-drone from the future and, despite an alliance with other factions of the Team Titans, he was ultimately killed when the robotic manhunter fired a blast into his chest (Team Titans # 11-12, by Marv Wolfman & Tom Peyer, Gordon Purcell & Frank Turner and Dave Simons).
A final Sunburst didn't appear until the 30th Century. In 2969, the Legion of Super-Heroes faced a man in a red suit (with black vest and boots) who held them at bay during a robbery at the Metropolis Mint. The costume was lined with super-scientific devices that enabled Sunburst to "surround him(self) with an electro-magnetic force-field," generate bursts of blinding light and fire the requisite bursts of solar radiation. The villain was finally apprehended when he was blinded by Shadow Lass.
Unknown to the Legion, Shadow Lass was being impersonated by Uli Algor, who was working in tandem with Sunburst to convince the team that she was for real as a prelude to stealing the secrets of the LSH. Shady's boy friend, Mon-El, discovered the switch and brought the mimic to justice (1969's Action Comics # 379, by E. Nelson Bridwell, Win Mortimer and Murphy Anderson).
Summing up, we've discussed:
Sunburst I (Takeo Sato): New Adventures of Superboy # 45
Sunburst II (Omar ?): DC Special Series # 1
Sunburst III (Timothy Walton): New Teen Titans (second series) # 36
Sunburst IV: Doom Patrol # 26
Sunburst V: Team Titans # 11
Sunburst VI: Action Comics # 379
A seventh Sunburst seems to be an inevitability, given the obvious attractiveness of the name. It's just a matter of when and where. Until then, keep watching the sky!
John "Mikishawm" Wells, the pride of Batavia, Iowa, is a lifelong comics fan, working his way forward from Disneys in 1969 to newspaper strips in 1973 to SHAZAM! and the rest of the DC Universe in 1974. During the 1980s, he began compiling a lists of DC character appearances, a massive database that he's tapped into when writing articles for publications such as the DC Index series, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer’s Guide, Comic Effect, Comic Book Marketplace, It’s A Fanzine, The O‘Neil Observer and, of course, Fanzing. He is Kurt Busiek's unofficial reference guide, as the keen-eyed may have noticed in Power Company #2.
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This piece is © 2001 by John Wells.
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