Countdown Breakdown #49

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: John Hays

The Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Just hearing the name immediately conjures up thoughts of Batman’s rogues gallery: The Joker, Penguin, Two-Face, etc. Of course, in later years the more sane villains were kept at Blackgate Penitentiary. Arkham is reserved for the truly insane. Arkham actually appeared rather late in the Batman mythos, introduced by Denny O’Neil in 1974. It was named after one of the settings in H.P. Lovecraft’s horror stories. Arkham has always had a revolving door when it comes to its inmates. They come and go, keeping Batman busy. In fact, sometimes the doctors end up as inmates themselves, as with the cases of Harley Quinn and Lock-Up. It’s even been run by inmates on occasion.

Killer Croc is the first new character to appear in this issue. It seems like every time I see Croc, whether in comics or cartoons, he’s portrayed differently, visually speaking. Apparently Croc, Waylon Jones, was born with a degenerative disease that slowly causes him to grow more like a crocodile over time. Did you know that Killer Croc is black? I was completely unaware. I guess ethnicity just isn’t something I think about with characters that don’t look human. For instance, even though it’s in his name, I never knew Black Manta was black until recently. I suppose I just figured that he was some type of fish man! Croc has also been portrayed across the board in terms of intelligence, from a schemer to a mindless animal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Croc in a mastermind role, though.

Red Arrow appears next. Roy Harper. This guy’s lived the fast life: women, drugs, danger. He’s been Speedy, Arsenal, and now Red Arrow. He’s been a member of the Teen Titans, Checkmate, Outsiders, and now the Justice League of America. In one of Green Arrow’s more regrettable moments, he abandoned Roy when he discovered that he was hooked on drugs, leaving him to be helped by Black Canary. This led to a rift between Roy and Ollie. Roy later became romantically involved with the villain Cheshire, and had a daughter by her. Roy eventually found out that he was related to Vandal Savage, which of course caused some exciting moments as Vandal tried to harvest Roy’s body for organs. The name Red Arrow was first used in Kingdom Come, which is a futuristic story that DC seems to be heading closer to every day. I’ve never been a big Roy fan. I don’t have anything against him; he’s just never interested me that much. He just changes too much. Perhaps if he sticks with the Red Arrow gig, I’ll become more of a fan.

I’d like to take the opportunity to focus on Mirror Master, even though he has appeared in previous issues. I’ve never been that familiar with the character, other than knowing that at least two different people have been Mirror Masters. In fact, it turns out that four different people have used this identity.

The first was Sam Scudder, a simple convict who worked in the prison machine shop and one day discovered a way to make mirrors that would allow them to capture images for limited periods of time. Wait…what? Come on. There’s suspension of disbelief, and then there’s just ridiculousness. It’s rather appropriate that, after an origin like that, his death would be similarly insubstantial. During the Crisis on Infinite Earths, he was killed from behind while arguing with other villains. Captain Boomerang actually became the second Mirror Master in order to carry out crimes while working for the Suicide Squad.

The third Mirror Master was and is Evan McCulloch. Evan grew up on his own, always getting into trouble and eventually becoming an assassin for hire. A group of U.S. government and business parties presented him with the Mirror Master costume and accessories in exchange for his services. Evan discovered a “mirror dimension” that allows him to travel from place to place through mirrors. This ability has always impressed me because it’s just so handy and hard to figure out. He also battles an addiction to cocaine, as seen in the last issue of Countdown when he’s berated by Heatwave for stealing some of his. Actually, it’s a bit surprising that Heatwave was even using cocaine, as I cannot find any evidence of prior use on his part. Evan is apparently now a member of the latest incarnation of the Suicide Squad, as seen in the current Checkmate series. It was news to me that he’d killed Piper’s parents. Relations are never ideal in the Rogues Gallery. A fourth Mirror Master appeared in an issue of Justice League International in a purple outfit as a member of “League Busters”, but has never been seen since.

Black Adam. Is this really Black Adam? If so, is he this Earth’s Black Adam? Does he have his powers, or is he just wearing the costume? Is it all in Mary’s mind? Lots of questions, but just for the sake of the Breakdown, let’s assume for a moment that this really is Black Adam. He’s got quite a history. Teth Adam lived in ancient Egypt and was given powers by the wizard Shazam to be his champion. However, he became corrupt and wanted to rule the world, so the wizard interfered with his plans. Now, this is where it gets interesting. In Fawcett comics, Shazam, upon finding that Teth Adam was evil, named him Black Adam and sent him to the farthest star in the universe. Black Adam spent the next 5,000 years flying back, at which time he found the Captain Marvel family and fought them to a standstill until Uncle Marvel tricked him into saying Shazam and becoming human. His mortal aging process caught up with him, and he died in moments. Pretty wild, eh?

In DC’s original use of Black Adam, Dr. Sivana brought him back from death, and he eventually joined the Monster Society of Evil. In 1987 he was once again brought back by Dr. Sivana, this time using an interdimensional transport device. He then tried to make Sivana his slave. Must be where the enmity comes from between the two.

In 1994, Jerry Ordway provided a new origin for Adam. In this instance, it was actually Shazam’s own daughter, Blaze, who corrupted Adam. When Shazam discovered this, he took Adam’s powers and placed them in a mystical scarab. Adam’s body once again withered away without the power of Shazam. His body and the scarab were then encased in a tomb. Many years later, an archaeologist named Theo Adam was on a dig funded by Dr. Sivana and led by Billy Batson’s parents. He, of course, ended up finding the tomb with Black Adam’s remains and within it the scarab, and he killed Billy’s parents in order to keep it. Theo Adam, upon seeing Captain Marvel, held the scarab and uttered the wizard’s name, becoming Black Adam. They fought, and Captain Marvel took a defeated Black Adam to the wizard, who wiped his memory and took away his voice so that he could not utter the name Shazam. Sometime later near the end of that series' run, Black Adam announced that he and Theo Adam were different personalities, and he was even acquitted of the murder of Billy’s parents when his fingerprints did not match those of Theo Adam. He later joined the Justice Society of America after going back and forth between good and evil. His history was also linked to Hawkman’s, a character that had been reincarnated from an ancient Egyptian prince.

Black Adam eventually left the JSA to rule over his nation of Khandaq, which led to many battles with the various DC heroes. He also found love in Isis, and brotherhood in Osiris, two natives that he bestowed powers upon. Unfortunately it did not last, since Dr. Sivana, along with many other evil scientists, built four horsemen of the apocalypse to wreak havoc on the world. One of them ended up killing Osiris, while another killed Isis. Adam unleashed his fury on the world, single-handedly destroying the nation of Bialya and holding his own against the world’s heroes, before being turned back into a mortal by Captain Marvel, who changed his magic word in order to keep him from turning back into Black Adam. Before Countdown #49, he was last seen wandering the world trying to figure out the new word.

Ever since Geoff Johns took over writing Black Adam, he’s been a vastly more interesting character. In fact, many have said that he rivals Captain Marvel himself in terms of popularity. He’s certainly a more multi-faceted character. It will be interesting to see where he goes from here.

That’s about it for this week. I loved Jimmy’s Elastic Lad appearance. Are the appearances of other worldly heroes causing characteristics of every other character to meld into each other between the various Earths? Will we start to see more Earth 2 features in the JSA? More Earth 1 features in Superman? Only time will tell, but it’s exciting so far!

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