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A copse of obscurity

by  in Comic News Comment

At the height of DC’s big-event mania, it was almost a running gag that a forgotten DC character (most likely an obscure Teen Titan) would be decapitated, dismembered, or otherwise used as cannon fodder for the likes of Superboy-Prime or Black Adam.

Therefore, now that the dark period is apparently coming to a close, I thought it would be nice to look at some dust-gathering DC folk who might benefit from the occasional guest appearance. Take last week’s Justice League #41, for instance. A flashback featured the 18th-century characters Tomahawk and Miss Liberty, who found an otherworldly artifact examined in the present day by scientist Darwin Jones. Later in the issue, Troia finds Batman and Robin taking out the Yellow Wasp (who both she and I initially misidentified as Killer Moth).

To be sure, DC is no stranger to reviving obscure characters. Conversely, it could fill quite a few issues with characters we’d be just as happy to leave in limbo. Therefore, it wasn’t easy finding characters wrongfully denied the spotlight … but I tried nonetheless.

Accordingly, in alphabetical order, here are some folks I wouldn’t mind seeing again under better circumstances.

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As part of a Superman-free alternate reality shown in 1994’s Zero Hour, the Alpha Centurion was Metropolis’ hero, and also Lois Lane’s boyfriend. Although this timeline was eventually wiped out, pretty much the same guy returned about a year later, in The Adventures Of Superman #527 (September 1995); and even in the regular timeline the “Lois Lane’s boyfriend” thing remained a source of tension. By way of origin, AC was an ordinary second-century Roman soldier named Marcus Aelius until he was abducted by aliens, trained in the heroic arts, and returned to 20th-Century Earth. For a while he was head of Team Luthor, the corporation’s battle-armored private security force; but Lex Luthor ended up running him out of town. From what I can tell, his most recent appearance was in December 1996’s Superman: The Wedding Special.

I’ve mentioned Amethyst, Princess Of Gemworld a few times in this space, but one more won’t hurt. While Amethyst isn’t connected especially strongly to the DC superhero line, she did appear in an Infinite Crisis cameo and as a Lord of Order she’s connected to Dr. Fate. However, because she started out as an Earth teenager, her roots are fairly mundane. Ideally, her adventures would have been collected by now, and she’d be helping expand DC’s readership. All that notwithstanding, I could see her showing up in a Phantom Stranger-esque expositional role, guiding the Justice League and/or Justice Society through some magical conundrum.

The Butcher was a Native American superhero created by Mike Baron and Shea Anton Pensa. A Lakota Indian who became an Army Ranger, he debuted in a 1990 miniseries, and reappeared in a 1991 Brave and the Bold miniseries alongside Green Arrow, Black Canary, and the Question. I never read either miniseries, but he strikes me as the kind of coldly-competent fighter who’d fit neatly into a wide variety of guest-star roles. He did have a cameo in Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow, but I’m surprised he hasn’t been used more often, especially in Chuck Dixon’s ‘90s heyday.

Arguably, the Challengers of the Unknown don’t need special attention, but the last time we saw them (in The Brave and the Bold #12) they were on the trail of one of their own. I have a feeling the Challs’ search for June Robbins would have been explored further if Mark Waid had kept writing B&B, but it would be nice to check in with them regardless. Although the Challengers are DC’s non-powered version of the Fantastic Four, with experiences comparable to any superhero team, they still come across more as ordinary folks leading extraordinary lives. That makes them both “realistic” (relatively speaking) and Silver Age-y, not unlike the Blackhawks or Adam Strange. In fact, for an ostensibly more “realistic” team, I wouldn’t mind seeing the late-‘90s Challengers team reunited. That take on COTU seemed to draw heavily on an X Files-ish atmosphere of creeping dread, and its characters were more downbeat as a result. At the very least, the Challengers are a fine way to show the superheroes from a different perspective.

The mysterious Faith ran the risk of Mary-Sue-dom when she was introduced during JLA’s “The Obsidian Age.” Showing up out of nowhere with her credibility resting largely on an absent Batman’s recommendation, she stayed with the League for a brief period before moving over to the Doom Patrol. Her powers are vast but undefined, she has a mysterious background, and she exudes an aura of trust and confidence which helps groups work together. In other words, she is potentially all sizzle and no steak, and a little more definition might do her some good.

Itty, or “That Thing On Hal Jordan’s Shoulder,” was created by Denny O’Neil and Mike Grell when they were producing Green Lantern backup stories for The Flash. Basically a little alien worm whose race Hal saved, Itty gave Hal someone to talk to during those lonely treks through Space Sector 2814. He appeared off and on from December 1975’s Flash #238 through July 1978’s Green Lantern #106. Once GL got his own book back, though, he was paired again with Green Arrow, which kind of left Itty out in the cold. Indeed, GL #106 (also by O’Neil and Grell) wrote the little guy out of the series, having him metamorphose into a humanoid and leave Earth. Readers next saw Itty in 1993, when Hal helped him and his mate fight off their mortal enemies and repopulate their species. Itty probably isn’t on Geoff Johns’s radar (sarcastic mentions at conventions notwithstanding), but it might be a nice change of pace to check in with him once all the sturm und drang is over.

A few years ago Dave Campbell took down Signalman thusly: “[b]ack in the day, all you needed to be a Batman villain was a gimmick, an ugly-ass costume, and a wildly unrealistic sense of confidence.” These things are all true, especially the costume. Decked out in orange and yellow, Signalman certainly stood out in gloomy Gotham. Regardless, he had his moments — off the top of my head I remember his stint with the Secret Society of Super-Villains, when he used a blinking neon sign to hyp-mo-tize a crowd into subduing the Darknight Detective. People made fun of the Riddler for essentially blabbing his schemes ahead of time; and while Signalman has all the subtlety of a traffic cone, at least he doesn’t have that hangup. He still makes occasional cameos in crowded events like Final Crisis and Trinity, and his last real contribution I remember was as a drug-addled informant in Brad Meltzer’s first Justice League arc. Thus, I presume that he still has some appeal. What’s more, he’s one of the few super-criminals who actually has two criminal identities, having also caused trouble as the trick-arrow-shooting Blue Bowman. There’s a Batman/Green Arrow/Two-Face story waiting to be written, I’m sure.

Not long after John Ostrander started writing Firestorm (in the late ‘80s), he included a Soviet citizen in the Firestorm matrix. Naturally, this took ‘Stormy to the U.S.S.R., where he encountered the teen super-team Soyuz. Led by the psionic Firebird, Soyuz included the whirlwind Vikhor, the electricity-projecting Perun, the water-controlling Rusalka, and the cold-manipulating Morozko. They adopted secret identities for a very good reason: to hide from the KGB. A little better than amateurs, but definitely not pros, they had a certain charm; but they’ve since fallen between the cracks. Here’s hoping some glasnost comes their way.

Batwoman wasn’t the only character promised a big springboard in 52. Grant Morrison said he had big plans for Super-Chief, a Native American superhero; and sure enough, an updated Super-Chief appeared in 52 #24. The character’s unfortunate death, also in that issue, seemed to preclude future appearances. However, Morrison told Newsarama that “[i]f there had been space in the last issue I would have included a coda to the Super-Chief story. I had plans for [his] return but we couldn’t fit them in when issue #52 went from 52 pages to 40. I’m sure he’ll turn up somewhere else.”

Now, I have always been under the impression that Morrison was including Super-Chief in 52 at least in part because of the character’s cheese value. It’s not as if great cries were arising from the people for more Super-Chief. Still, if Morrison thinks the character’s been shortchanged, maybe he’s not gone for good.

Finally, I have tried to stay away from characters who are currently dead, because until I see how Blackest Night handles its body count I don’t want to presume too much. This means I can end with Tomorrow Woman, who was brought back to life by semi-complicated means in Trinity. (The short version is that she comes from an alternate timeline where she never died.) TW started out as the android creation of Professor Ivo and T.O. Morrow, designed to destroy the Justice League from within; but during her brief stint as a Leaguer she rebelled against her programming and sacrificed herself in the process. Trinity’s alternate timeline found her replacing Superman in Metropolis, even maintaining the secret identity of Clara Kendall, WGBS reporter. At the end of that series, the divinely-powered Trinitarians brought her into the restored timeline and made her human — but presumably with the “four-lobed mutant brain” which was part of the android’s original cover story. After all that, it would be the height of irony for her to become a Black Lantern, so don’t get any ideas, Johns! Might be nice to have “Tommie” help out the Birds of Prey, if she doesn’t show up first in Justice League.

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Just to be clear, I recognize that recycling old characters in hopes of making them “cool” is often a futile task, and it plays into fannish impulses which may well be tremendously unfulfilling. By no means am I saying that DC’s professionals should stop creating new characters. Instead, it’s more like reforestation: for every Bushido or Pantha cut down in a big fight scene, let’s have a decent Signalman or Itty story. Pretty soon, your woods are nice and healthy again.