Who’s Who in the DCU: Anniversary Edition

Welcome to our special “ANNIVERSARY column. Y’see way back on 3/19/03 the very first Who’s Who in the DCU appeared over at 411Comics. It was very much a “rough draft” of the column that you readers enjoy every week. When I look back on it now it’s kind of embarrassing. But it served its purpose and here we are two years later, and the column is still going on strong.

As many of you know Ben Morse, who edited the column, went on to fame and fortune at Wizard. Daron, who occasionally filled in for Ben in editing this column and was Co Editor in Chief of Comics Nexux, dropped the Co and became Sole Editor in Chief. Tim Stevens has gracefully and marvelously stepped in a filled the void left by Ben in this very column.

Tim makes this column a treat to read. Usually I don’t read what I write. I wrote it and I know what I wrote. But every Thursday, I can’t wait to read the column, just to see what Tim has added. Sometimes it’s hilarious, sometimes it’s informative, and sometimes it’s infuriating. But it’s always worth reading and it never disappoints.

Tim, anything you want to say on this anniversary?

Just congratulations and thanks again for letting me be a part of it all.

This week I’ll forgo linking and commenting on what I read last week. After all, this is a special column, and specials rarely follow form.

Thus this column is going to step just outside of the DCU with our questions.

George Metcalf do you have a question to start things off?

Whatever happened to Swamp Thing? He had two movies and his own series, what the hell happened? He was written so well from what I read (his issue in Superman where Superman is dying written by Alan Moore, so it might be a statistical anomaly) so I am interested in pursuing his TPB adventures. Is this a case of stereotypical decline after a character’s best writer leaves or what?

The Swamp Thing is still around. In fact his current book is a solid read, and has featured the art or Richard Corben and Timothy Green II, two of my favorite artists.

That said, it’s difficult to follow up after a “definitive run” from a classic writer. Swamp Thing wasn’t a high profile property. But Alan Moore put his stamp on the character and made him a complex one. I think the tagline for the book was “sophisticated suspense.” It was one of the first true “adult” books.

During Alan Moore’s run on the book he created John Constantine, established the foundation of what would become the Vertigo Universe (utilizing the more mystical components of the DCU) and sent Swamp Thing into space.

When Alan left the title Rich Veitch took over the writing (he’d already been supplying the art). Veitch had Swamp Thing conceive a child with his human wife, and even sent Swamp Thing traveling backward through time. During that storyline he encountered many characters of the DCU. However that storyline, which was due to culminate with Swamp Thing actually meeting Jesus Christ (an issue that was aborted), resulted in Veitch leaving the title.

Doug Wheeler followed Veitch, and Nancy Collins followed Wheeler. Mark Millar and Grant Morrison followed Collins. They, as you can imagine, crafted huge stories, which ended up with a Swamp Thing with godlike powers, that storyline actually concluded the series.

There was a third Swamp Thing series, but this one featured Tefe, Swamp Thing’s daughter. The series was written by current star scribe Brian K. Vaughan, but was short lived.

The current Swamp Thing title is a soild read. It’s a bit more back to the basics approach, with a more emphasis on the “monster” rather than the “powers.”

Tim, who do you think would write a cool Swamp Thing story?

Hmm…I’d say Brian K Vaughan, but that’s basically because I think he can write damn near anything. Who else? Perhaps I’d tap Bill Willingham for his ability to mix reality with myth.

But really, no particular writer screams, “I was born for Swamp Thing” to me. The thing is, though, many of the writers who “worked” on Swamp Thing would not have been people that I would have thought to look to in the first place. So maybe Larry Hama or Howard Mackie could give us a great Swamp Thing. Who knows?

Clinton, got a related question?

In the new Swamp Thing series, Swampy apparently has the powers of all the elements. When did this happen? Did all of the Parliaments give them to him? When?

Well at the end of the original Swamp Thing series, Millar and Morrison had the Swamp Thing achieving “global consciousness” and ascending to the Parliament of the Worlds. He was a very powerful creature and so far beyond humanity, it wasn’t funny. In fact Alec Holland and Swamp Thing actually separated. The storyline began with issue #141.

At the start of the current title, that was still the status quo. Sargon the Sorcerer was using Tefe as a pawn against Swamp Thing in an attempt to gain the power the Swamp Thing held. Meanwhile Constantine was trying to reunite Holland’s spirit with Swampy’s body. Eventually Swamp Thing realized that in order to win, he had to relinquish his power and he did. That happened in the first arc of the current Swamp Thing title.

Tim, are you going to give Swamp Thing a try?

I’d love to go back and read the Moore, Veitch, and Morrison/Millar stuff, but no particular plans to read what’s going on now, no.

Docbooty do you have anther multimedia character to cover?

What the hell was the Maxx about? (Not really a DC question but the trades are published by them so maybe you would know) I really dug the first 15 issues or so but I got confused and lost interest.

The Maxx was about dealing with and retreating from reality. It was Sara and Julie and how The Maxx affected their lives.

In all fairness it was meant to be confusing. Many aspects of the book were intended to open to interpretation. I’d suggest you try reading it again, and if you don’t gleam anything from it then check out This Site.

Tim, did you ever read The Maxx or catch it on MTV?

I did see on MTV. I was about 14 at the time and I remember that it was part of either Liquid TV (which gave us Beavis and Butthead) or Oddities, which were both umbrella programs for MTV to showcase animation. I don’t really recall how I felt about The Maxx specifically, but I did enjoy both those umbrella programs in total.

Neil do you have a character that you need covered?

Who/what exactly is Shade, the Changing Man? Does he actually change?

Ah Rac Shade. Rac is from a dimension known as Meta. Meta and Earth are linked by some pathways known as Unseen Ways. Rac was trained to be able to sense those pathways. His trainer Wizor told him about how madness ran rampant on Earth, and that Rac would be trained to combat the madness.

A plot was hatched. Rac would astral project his spirit to earth and it would end up in the body of Troy Grenzer. The catch; Grenzer was a murderer who was sentenced to die in the electric chair.

Rac got a crash course on American culture through a “deep culture tank.” He was also given a “Madness Vest” that would merge with his life force and he’d be able to use it even when he got to Earth. Rac was also assured that his original body would be fine.

Right at the moment of Grenzer’s death, Rac entered his body. As usually happens, the transplant required a bit of adjustment. While Rac was acquainting himself with Grenzer’s body he lost control of his vest. That coupled with the fact that part of Grenzer’s consciousness is still around made the adjustment that much more difficult, but Rac persevered.

Unfortunately he later found out that his original body didn’t fare too well; it had decayed. Thus he was stuck in Grenzer’s body, on Earth, on the run from the police.

Shade’s M-Vest could shape reality, among other things. Grenzer’s body eventually came to resemble Rac’s. But later on in the title Rac became a woman. He was last seen at a Y2K bash.

Tim, doesn’t that book seem kind of “out there?”

Hmm…a bit yes. But worth looking into.

Starman Matt do you have a question about a character that’s close to my heart?

Tell me more about this new Tattooed Man and the Vertigo version…

The “new” Tattooed Man isn’t really new. He’s still Able Tarrant, he’s just got a new youthful look. I don’t care for it.

As for the Vertigo version.(as detailed in Skin Graft: The Adventues of a Tattooed Man) John Oakes, meets Abel Tarrant in prison. Tarrant uses Oakes as a canvas for the living tattoos. Oakes gets out of prison and become a celebrity for his tattoos and his art. Oakes struggles to control his tattoos, which seem to have a life of their own. Also Oakes becomes the target of a criminal who skins people for their tattoos. In fact the villain has mannequins that wear the skins.

There is a battle and Tarrant is involved. During the battle Tarrant is stripped of his tattoos.

It’s a very interesting read. I liked it. It’s certainly not continuity, even though Hal Jordan makes a cameo in the first issue.

Tim, do you have any tattoos?

Not a one. A good friend of mine, Ku, on the other hand has several: a tiki god, the word “family”, a Greek saying, a number, Sandman (the Dreaming version). His most recent, however, is a large octopus on his back. When asked why he got it his response was, “Well, I’d been thinking about it for awhile and…you know…octopi are really adaptive animals.” I don’t know why, but I always get a kick out of that reasoning.

I do often joke/threaten Janelle that I’m going to get the double d Daredevil symbol on my chest, but the likelihood of me actually doing that is pretty damn slim.

Mike Z want to wrap things up?

What’s the number one geek-out moment for you in Planetary? Every issue (before the hiatus) had any number of lit/sci-fi/comic geek moments, but I’m going to have to go for either the entirety of the Batman/Planetary book (GA Batman with the gun and purple gloves especially) or issue number two with the dead Mothra reveal.

There have been so many. I enjoyed the nods to the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Captain Marvel, and the JLA. But honestly I’d have to say my favorite was the nod to Vertigo in issue #7. Not only do we (kind of) get to see some of the Endless and Alan Moore, but we also witness the metamorphosis of John Constantine into Spider Jerusalem.

That one was my favorite, but they were all great moments and very well done.

Tim, want to add your thoughts to this one?

The whole book (especially the first year) is friggin’ brilliant. The first time the book completely clicked with me though stands out perfectly in my mind and that was the ghost cop issue, #3. By the time the ghost cop tells Drummer, Elijah, and Jakita that “they’re just us,” the book officially had me in its thrall. So while I love the superhero cameos (of sorts) that is the big killer issue of the book for me.

If I had to choose one superhero analogue moment though that isn’t the ghost cop, it would be the pulp hero roundtable that including Doc Brass.

Since it’s an anniversary column, it’s time to pay tribute to those who actually make the column possible; the readers. At least once a week I get an email that begins “Thanks to your column I’m reading comics again” or “Thank you for reminding me of why I loved comics all those years ago” or some other sentiment of gratitude. And honestly, it’s emails like those that make this gig so satisfying.

I may not be writing comic books or getting paid for writing this column, but the fact that I’m making a contribution to an industry that I cherish via other readers enjoyment, is satisfaction enough for me. And it’s you readers that I have to thank for continuing to allow me to do that week in and week out. So; “Thank You.”

Check out the sister column: Who’s Who in the DCU: Anniversary Edition: Reader Response. It’s devoted entirely to your feedback to this column. It’s your thoughts, your correction, and your answers to my questions. Here’s your time to shine.

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