Welcome to our coverage of “Who’s Who!” For this summer, we’ll be focusing exclusively on the 26-issue 1985-1987 series, without any of the updates. Those will, hopefully, follow next year.
Today, we dive into the third installment, which continues the series of “Black _____” characters, but features none of one of the best types of entries. Let’s dig in.
Best overall entry: Black Orchid
For a few reasons that we’ll get to, this is one of the odder installments of “Who’s Who.” This entry is clearly the most entertaining one, but not for the usual reasons. There isn’t too much Earth-2 weirdness or convoluted history here, just some really funny writing. Enjoy this amuse bouche before digging in fully: “Superman has stated that Orchid was once able to reprogram a computer using X-ray powers, but that can be discounted as hyperbole. Her contributions as a crimefighter, however, should not be discounted at all.”
Best non-character: NOTHING
This is bullshit! Yes, we get one team entry, but we don’t get a single gadget, location, or vehicle here! I know the whole point of this book is to be an alphabetical reference guide, but couldn’t we spread out the Bat stuff a bit so we can have some non-characters in this issue? Is that too much to ask?
Marquee character: Black Lightning?
Black Lightning is front and center on the cover, and this is right in the middle of “Batman and the Outsiders,” but it is hard to look at him in this issue and see him as the marquee character, as he gets a single page entry and no ancillary entries for allies or objects. The only character that appears more than once is the Brain, both in his solo entry, and as part of the Brotherhood of Evil, but I’m not sure that really makes him the marquee character either.
Most obscure character: Breathtaker
The version of Breathtaker featured here only appears in 3 issues aside from this volume, making the character clearly the most obscure of any character here. However, the character has remarkable lasting power, having appeared in the post-“Crisis” timeline, but only 8 times and has shown up as part of the Hangmen since “Flashpoint,” but not enough for a DC Wikia entry on that era’s version. That version has been in a DC video game, but isn’t substantial enough for an entry there either, and has shown up not once, not twice, but thrice on Supergirl. So yes, there are as many Arrowverse appearances as pre-“Crisis” appearances.
Most incomprehensible entry: Brother Blood
I have a degree in theology, and I was getting bored by this.
Most bizarre entry (tie): Blackstarr
The most baffling thing I read this week is the entire concept of the character. Just read the above entry and tell me it doesn’t creep you out. How did DC create this character in 1983?
Most bizarre entry (tie): Brother Power
There is nothing funnier to me than what people thought hippies were/did, versus what hippies actually were/did. This sounds like something Richard Nixon would’ve made up as a nightmare to scare his grandkids. “And then the hippies…they…well…they just…put the rags on a goddamn dusty old tailor’s dummy!”
Top three pieces of art:
3. Blue Beetle
Steve Rude perfectly layers Beetle, in that goofy-ass pose, in front of the logo, while also using some creative design to make Ted Kord’s hair into movement lines of sorts to tie the whole backsplash together.
2. Black Racer
The King, doing what the King does.
1. Brainwave Jr.
Jerry Ordway tells a full story in the background of this image, without taking away from the hero in the foreground. This costume is also a great example of there being just too many elements on a costume but, when considered, you can’t really decide which one should go. They all work, it’s just a wee bit too much.
Best lines/details per entry:
Black Lightning: Determined to get out of the slum, Pierce trained himself to physical perfection, gaining national attention when he won the gold medal for the decathlon at the Montreal Olympics of 1976.Continued below
Brian’s commentary: The Bronze era loved nothing more than making their heroes either Olympians, or stating in these bios that, if they so chose, they could’ve been in the Olympics. DC had Olympic fever!
Black Manta: Black Manta was directly responsible for the death of Aquaman’s son, Arthur Curry Jr, thus becoming one of the Sea King’s greatest foes.
Brian’s commentary: This book keeps downplaying the absolute evil and trauma of Black Manta murdering Aquaman’s son. “Thus becoming one of the Sea King’s greatest foes” just sounds so clinical when Black Manta, you know, killed his kid.
Black Orchid: The Black Orchid is obviously a master of makeup and disguise far superior to any Hollywood artist currently practicing the craft.
Brian’s commentary: This sounds like Trump. “We love the Black Orchid, don’t we folks? She would never be hired by a Democrat governor to do his makeup, because they’ve got no class.”
Black Pirate: Known relatives: Donna Bonita (wife)
Brian’s commentary: Known relatives: Jim Macho (cousin), Pete Fuerte (uncle), Tina Consado (aunt).
Black Racer: When he has finished delivering his message of death, the Black Racer returns to the comatose life of Sgt. Willie Walker until he is summoned anew.
Brian’s commentary: I can’t really think of a better way to say this sentiment, but I love the drama of this sentence. This is all that is great about the Fourth World in one little bite.
Blackrock: Months later, when UBC’s ratings slipped once more, Silverstone revived Blackrock, hypnotizing Tanner’s nephew, comedian Les Vegas, into filling the role.
Brian’s commentary: The whole Blackrock entry is a joy, but “Les Vegas” as a comedian name is either genius or dumb or both.
Black Spider: Going somewhat mad with remorse, Needham kicked his drug habit and sought vengeance against drug dealers everywhere.
Brian’s commentary: I like that his line was ‘somewhat mad.’ He didn’t hit rock bottom, just rock medium.
Blackstarr: Occupation: Rabble-rouser and super-villainess
Brian’s commentary: What a beautiful turn of phrase.
Blockbuster: Occupation: Ex-scientific prodigy, now near-mindless brute
Brian’s commentary: The occupations this week are chef’s kiss emojis.
Blok: As a Legionnaire, he has completed personal combat training (as adapted to his physiology) with undistinguished results.
Brian’s commentary: Someone is probably very mad at this participation trophy-ass entry, but hey, I haven’t completed personal combat training, so who am I to judge?
Blue Beetle: “…he suddenly found himself clad in a skin-tight blue costumed and possessed of extraordinary powers.”
Brian’s commentary: Side note: it is bonkers that the first Blue Beetle doesn’t get his own entry but Breathtaker does. This is some Charlton erasure.
Blue Devil: Descrbed as a ‘weirdness magnet’ by his friend cinematographer Norm Paxton, Cassidy found his new life plagued by aliens, robots, mystical entities, super-heroes, and super-villains.
Brian’s commentary: You think he’s a weirdness magnet, check out my ex-girlfriends!*
Just kidding, I’m lucky anyone has ever kissed me
Bolt: He vanished at last after learning that his employers represented only themselves, and not the super-secret criminal organization he had been led to believe was behind them.
Brian’s commentary: “How dare they misrepresent themselves to me, a low level villain?”
Bouncing Boy: Bouncing Boy’s sole power is the ability to inflate and bounce with amazing agility and resilience.
Brian’s commentary: I think that’s a pretty great power, and I don’t appreciate it being talked down about.
Boy Commandos: Against such foes as Agent Axis and the malevolent Crazy-Quilt, the Boy Commandos left their mark in the annals of adventuresome.
Brian’s commentary: I like how they have to clarify that the Boy Commandos are fighting the malevolent Crazy-Quilt, and not his benevolent cousin with the same name.
The Brain: On occasion, the Brain has employed the body of a giant robot called Rog to grant himself some measure of mobility.
Brian’s commentary: You’d think as a super genius, he’d create a giant robot that would grant him more than ‘some measure’ of mobility.
Brainiac: Though he possesses knowledge of all known forms of hand to hand combat throughout the universe, Brainiac considers himself above such barbaric actions, preferring to use his awesome mind to defeat his foes.
Brian’s commentary: He doesn’t want to resort to the actions of us meat bags. I get it.Continued below
Brainiac 5: The strain of his intelligence has caused Querl to demonstrate occasional mental problems, including a bout with insanity, but his present condition is very stable.
Brian’s commentary: I’ve never heard to insanity condensed into merely a ’bout’ before. That makes it seem like it comes and goes like seasonal allergies.
Brain Storm: Brain Storm is a less-than-average hand-to-hand combatant, and will attempt to flee when threatened with physical harm.
Brian’s commentary: Brain Storm is all of us.
Brainwave: Several decades ago, under circumstances still unrevealed, King met and married part-time super-heroine Merry Pemberton.
Brian’s commentary: There’s my good Earth-2 shit! I love that they have to say that no one knows how it happened. Just tell us it happened!
Brainwave Jr: Occupation: Currently unemployed
Brian’s commentary: Every low-level villain is said to be a ‘criminal mastermind’ for their profession, but Hank can’t be ‘super-powered mental mutant?’
Breathtaker: Group affiliation: The Assassination Bureau
Brian’s commentary: This is, was, or will be, a hardcore band’s name.
Bronze Tiger: Several months after joining G.O.O.D., Ben found himself the target of several murder attempts, because he had unknowingly inherited 1,000 acres of prime timber land.
Brian’s commentary: That old “murdered for timber land” chestnut.
Broot: Though Changralyn’s doctrines left no room for argument, Charis-Nar found himself questioning these teachings and was thus ridiculed by his peers.
Brian’s commentary: “The fool questions the doctrines!”
Brother Blood: Blood has built circuitry into his clothing that can hurl bolts of energy, but his greatest power is his incredible charisma.
Brian’s commentary: This entry could also be used for Tom Cruise.
Brotherhood of Evil:
Brian’s commentary: Pizza the Hutt‘s first cousin, Plasmus.
Brother Power: In the course of his adventures, Brother Power ran for Congress, was imprisoned as a circus freak, and forced to work on an assembly line by the villainous Lord Slide-Rule.
Brian’s commentary: I want to stop everything and read some Brother Power comics right now.
Bug-Eyed Bandit: Larvan also developed a memory-destroying gas, to which he ultimately fell victim.
Brian’s commentary: Live by the memory-destroying gas, die by the memory-destroying gas.
Bug & Byte Ironically, this family tragedy brought Belle and Frank Bonner together again.
Brian’s commentary: “See kids? Sometimes wishes do come true.”
Brian’s commentary: [Tugging on collar intensely until ripping the collar off my shirt]
Byth: Byth was the greatest thief on the planet Thanagar, a world where people steal not for profit, but simply the thrill of it.
Brian’s commentary: Imagine how annoying this society would be?