Hello! I’m Alex Jaffe, and for the past five years, I have been better known to the DC Community as HubCityQuestion. It’s been my honor and pleasure to bring answers to both the greatest and most esoteric mysteries obscured by the vast breadth and depth of the DC Universe for anyone who has dared to submit their inquiries to my column. And this month, it is with great pride that I commemorate our 100th edition of the column.
How did a monthly column get to 100 entries in under eight years, the numerically inclined among you may be asking? Well, in 2018, the DC Universe service debuted, a destination where users could read comics, watch DC films and television, engage with each other in a community, and read news and special interest pieces geared towards hardcore DC fans.
I was an early adopter to this community, which still thrives today here at DC.com. With many subscribers now accessing a vast digital comic archive for the first time, I knew that questions about the ins and outs of canon would abound. So, I set up my own thread where I invited members to ask me whatever they wanted about DC Comics, and I’d do my level best to find them an answer. When did Lex Luthor first learn about Supergirl? Where’s my favorite character these days? What’s the deal with that giant penny in the Batcave? Every day, motivated by nothing but my own desire to pursue and share details about the DC Universe, I labored to find readers the answers they sought.
It wasn’t too long before the community managers noticed my labor of love and recommended me to DC Universe’s editorial team to begin publishing my findings for a wider audience. For over a year, ASK…THE QUESTION was a weekly feature in DC Universe’s news section. The evolution of DC Universe into DC UNIVERSE INFINITE saw much of DC Universe’s original writing team, myself included, integrated into DC.com. With that transition, my column became a monthly feature, but one no less dedicated to finding the answers my readers need.
Since that transition, many of the answers I’ve meticulously researched from the DC Universe era have been lost to public record—the DC Universe news section is, sadly, no more. So, to celebrate 100 entries, I’m bringing back some of my favorite inquiries from this earlier era to inform our new readers and to relive the many happy memories I’ve made in pursuit of a lifelong dream come true: being a professional DC comic book know-it-all. Here are eight of my favorite questions from the original run of ASK…THE QUESTION. And here’s to many more to come.
For the Longest Time
Just a quick question which might not have a quick answer, but do we know what has been the longest time a character has gone without making an appearance?
A tricky question. To answer this one, I had to go ALL the way back…to New Fun Comics #1, the very first comic book DC published back in 1935—before the company was even called DC. Like Detective Comics and Action Comics after it, New Fun was an anthology title, featuring a number of original comic book characters in their own serialized adventures. Which was the first to be canceled? Who failed to survive that initial run before New Comics would take its place later that year? I went to the archives to find out. While very few characters from this National Allied Publications debut issue such as Jack Woods, Wing Brady or Sandra of the Secret Service survived even into the 1940s, only one feature was canceled by the very next issue.
Missing since March 1935 (by cover date), the world has seen neither hide nor hair of “Cap’n Erik,” cartoonist Robert Weinstein’s seafaring hero whose sole two-part adventure was about hunting seals. (Also making their final appearance in New Fun Comics #2: minor fill-in page characters Scrub Hardy, Judge Perkins and Jigger and Ginger.)
Since sealing isn’t about to come back in fashion any time soon, it could be quite a while before we ever see Cap’n Erik again. Maybe as some kind of minor Aquaman villain, for the absolute deepest of pulls.
Hello Question dude, this week I have some questions about Kandor. Has the shrunken Kryptonian city ever been returned to a normal size either in comics or anywhere else? If so, what was the secret to returning it back to normal?
For much of Superman’s career, the bottled city of Kandor has stood in the Fortress of Solitude as a tangible symbol hope itself. A problem which, if someday solved, could mean the return of Krypton to the universe. It represents a promise that even the greatest of tragedies may someday be reversed. It stands to reason, then, that writers would be tempted to see this storyline through to its happy conclusion. After all, Superman is all about achieving the impossible dream. I can think of no fewer than four occasions throughout DC history where the former capital of Krypton was restored to its full size and splendor:
Superman #338, “Let My People Grow!” (1978)
For this special anniversary issue, DC and writer Len Wein celebrated Superman’s 40th in a big way: by embiggening Kandor itself. In this issue, Krypton’s last survivors Superman and Supergirl harness an active supernova to empower an enlarging ray that would restore Kandor to its former size. Unfortunately, the Kandorians soon discover that the effects of the ray only prove permanent on organic matter, forcing them to rebuild their society from scratch. The liberated people of Kandor go on to colonize the planet Rokyn, which appears a number of times through the 30th century adventures of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Superman: New Krypton (2008)
One major change made to Superman’s history after Crisis on Infinite Earths was the restoration of Superman’s status as the last survivor of Krypton, eliminating cousins and miniaturized cities alike from his retinue. But in the 2008 Superman: Brainiac storyline, the miniaturized Kryptonian city appears once more after a long absence as part of Brainiac’s collection. This version of Kandor is kept bottled via an energy field which keeps it in its miniaturized state—a field which is disrupted in the climactic battle between Superman and Brainiac, restoring the people of Kandor and their city to full size. Much of the Superman comics of the late ‘00s concern the fallout of this new development, ultimately culminating in 2010’s War of the Supermen.
I don’t know about you, but when I first heard that one of Superman’s stickiest problems was figuring out how to re-enlarge a miniaturized city, the first solution that came to my mind was, “Why not call the Atom?” After all, if the Atom could create a belt which can alter his own size at will, surely he could help develop similar technology for the people of Kandor.
Well, it turns out that in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight saga, that’s exactly what happens. In this dark future of the DC Universe, we learn that Lex Luthor is able to manipulate Superman by keeping Kandor as his hostage. But this dangerous status quo is disturbed when Supergirl, pretending to be Luthor’s pawn, sneaks the Atom into the bottled city in order to liberate it from his wicked grasp. This turn of events would prove to have unforeseen consequences of its own in Miller’s follow-up story, Dark Knight III: The Master Race.
Legion of Super Heroes, “Message in a Bottle” (2007)
A thousand years after the abduction of Kandor, Legion of Super-Heroes member Brainiac 5 repays a debt to Superboy by using his ancestor’s technology to restore Kandor on a reformed planet Krypton. Sadly, in order to preserve the timeline, Brainiac 5 is required to wipe Superboy’s memory of this action so that he may not know the final fate of the Kandorian people he failed to save within his own time. Nobody ever said being a Legionnaire was easy.
Clarke’s Law & Order
Okay, this regards Blue Beetle, Jaime Reyes. What is the actual story with the beetle? Is it Egyptian like Doctor Fate said, or is it alien Reach technology? Everything I’ve read seems to bounce back and forth.
There’s a simple reason it seems to bounce back and forth that way, Doomsday—because that’s exactly what it’s been doing.
Originally, the scarab of the Blue Beetle had no extraterrestrial or mystical properties whatsoever. From its debut in 1939 to 1964, the beetle in question was merely a symbol used by the original Blue Beetle, Dan Garrett, in his fight against crime on the pages of Quality Comics. In a Silver Age reboot for 1964’s Blue Beetle #1, Garrett’s symbol was given a new origin. Garrett’s profession changed from police officer to archaeologist, having discovered the scarab as an Egyptian artifact on an expedition.
Garrett took advantage of the Scarab’s many mystical properties until 1966, when the Blue Beetle concept was rebooted once again with Ted Kord inheriting the role, beginning with Captain Atom #83. Ted Kord creator Steve Ditko preferred a more gadget-based approach to the character, and eventually had Garrett pass the scarab onto him in an origin story for the legacy hero—though Ted would never learn the secret of how to make it function.
Forty years later, the scarab returns as the mantle of Blue Beetle is passed down once more, this time to Jaime Reyes, as depicted in 2006’s Blue Beetle #1. In this new take on the character by Keith Giffen and John Rogers, it’s eventually revealed by 2008’s Blue Beetle #25 that while the scarab does possess seemingly mystical properties, the truth is much more complicated. Long before the scarab was discovered in Egypt by the original Blue Beetle, it was an artifact of an expanding alien empire known as the Reach, who deployed them to colonize worlds into their dominion by bonding with a native host. Thanks to a malfunction, this particular scarab ended up in a state where Jaime could bond emotionally with it as well as physically, and the two eventually reach a mutual respect and understanding.
The nature of this relationship and the Scarab’s alien origins remained largely unchanged for the New 52 Blue Beetle series. But when Keith Giffen returned to the character in 2016’s Blue Beetle: Rebirth #1, big mystical heavy hitters like Doctor Fate and Arion, Lord of Atlantis became involved in the more supernatural aspects of the Scarab’s origins. However, Giffen’s final story arc contained a few hints that the true nature of the Scarab may not be purely mystical after all…by revealing the surprise involvement in 2017’s Blue Beetle #13 of the alien despot Lady Styx in an unexpected disguise.
The truth is that the nature of the scarab is ambiguous enough for readers to make up their own minds. But if you’d like my own opinion, I’ll have to side with science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. Though he wrote many works throughout his life, perhaps his most famous piece is this astute observation: any sufficiently advanced technology is functionally indistinguishable from magic.
World’s Finest Authors
Has anyone ever been a main writer on a main Superman book (Action Comics, Superman, Adventures of Superman, Man of Steel, etc.) and the main writer on a main Batman book (Detective Comics, Batman, Legends of the Dark Knight, etc.) at the same time? Thanks as always!
Before we get into this, let’s define the stipulations of the question. What is a “main” Superman or Batman book? I believe the spirit of this question suggests one which meets the following requirements: a book launched with the intention of being an ongoing, unlimited series, and a book which (at least for the overwhelming majority of its run) primarily focuses on the title hero. Scott Snyder may have written Superman Unchained during his New 52 Batman run, for instance, but because Superman Unchained is a limited series, he wouldn’t qualify for that intersection.
A “main” writer, on the other hand, may be defined as one who takes over one of these comics for a significant run, as opposed to a fill-in or guest writer. So for instance, Brian Michael Bendis may have done a guest spot in Detective Comics #1000 while writing Superman, but because he wasn’t the main writer of Detective Comics, he wouldn’t qualify either.
Where you establish the cut-off for “significance,” however, is a matter of opinion. Surely a one-shot appearance wouldn’t qualify one as a “main” writer. But what about a two- or even three-parter? Or even just a single story arc? Is there a difference if it’s between stints from the prior main writer, or if a new writer comes aboard afterward? What if they’re one of several rotating writers during a period of publication, as was quite common during the Pre-Crisis era?
For this experiment, let us say that to be considered a “main” writer, they must have written at least six issues over a twelve-month period. These issues may be in any qualifying “main title”—for instance, Jerry Siegel’s accumulative run on the main Superman books would account for his work on both Superman and Action Comics.
I’m gonna level with you, Tornado. This is the most work I have ever put into a case for this column. I toiled at this for hours beyond counting, where all but the most bullheaded detectives would have thrown up their hands at the sheer magnitude of this challenge. But your faithful faceless investigator pressed ever onward, tirelessly matching up runs by every writer on every title to meet these qualifications over the past eighty years. From Jerry Siegel to Brian Michael Bendis; from Bill Finger to Tom King. In the process, I learned secrets about DC history I never even thought to look for, and perhaps even a few important things about myself.
In the end, though, after scouring thousands of issues and hundreds of names, I have compiled, for what I believe to be the first time anywhere, a list of the proud few writers who worked regularly on a flagship Batman and Superman title at the same time.
The first person to achieve this feat is perhaps the hardest working writer in the Golden Age of DC, Bill Finger. The co-creator of Batman himself put a great deal of work into the Super-Books of the 1940s, frequently pitching in when Jerry Siegel was unavailable. Though he never had a long consecutive run, Finger wrote over fifty issues of Superman and Action Comics during his record long runs on Batman and Detective Comics.
In the waning years of World War II, Alvin Schwartz was one of the main writers on Batman, Superman, Detective Comics and Action Comics. He later went on to co-create Bizarro in 1958—depending on who you ask, that is. It’s a long story. At any rate, he was the first to do the whole “opposite talk” deal.
The Golden Age of rotating creative teams was also the heyday of bullpen writer Don Cameron, who bounced between all four Batman and Superman books between 1943 and 1948. And he was no slouch—this era of productivity brought us Toyman, Alfred Pennyworth, and the very beginnings of what would become the Batcave.
A pulp science fiction novelist walking in the footsteps of HP Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, Edmond Hamilton paid the bills by picking up work on Action, Detective, Batman and Superman—lots of work. Between 1948 and 1957, Hamilton often found himself working on all four books at once. But his flair for the futuristic was best deployed during his early work on the Legion of Super-Heroes, dreaming up such mainstays as Timber Wolf and the Time Trapper.
In the 1970s, it was hard to find a DC title that wasn’t being written by the great Dennis O’Neil. From 1971-1972, he was the main writer on Batman, Superman and Detective Comics—and his best work was still yet to come.
Between 1975-1980, “The Answer Man” Bob Rozakis wrote quite frequently on both Action and Detective Comics. His was a work ethic which continued to inspire me as I collated all of this information together.
Swamp Thing co-creator Len Wein also achieved this distinction between 1979 and 1980 with dual runs on Batman and Superman. Oh, and just for good measure, he happened to be handling The Flash and Justice League of America at the time, too. Len liked to keep busy, and we’re all the richer for it.
It should come as no surprise that Marv Wolfman, one of the primary architects of Crisis on Infinite Earths, also managed to achieve this distinction, with runs on Batman and Action Comics between 1980 and 1981.
Greg Rucka gets an honorable mention for writing both Detective Comics and Action Comics in 2010…with the caveat that at the time, neither title featured Batman or Superman.
But the most recent writer to pull off this rare feat? That would be Grant Morrison, who worked on both Action Comics and Batman, Incorporated in the dawning years of the New 52. Sticklers may not consider Batman, Incorporated to be a “main” Batman book, but it certainly had an impact which rippled out to every Batman title being published at the time.
Numbering the Infinite
How many “named” characters are in Crisis on Infinite Earths? Given the large number, does that make George Pérez the artist who has drawn the most DC characters? (If not Pérez, then who holds that title?)
You’re really living up to your name, acolyte, because this question was downright sadistic. Nevertheless, for my hungry readers, I endeavored to identify and tally every single named character in the entire twelve-issue Crisis on Infinite Earths epic, from Abra Kadabra to Zirral of the Omega Men. Throughout its myriad crowds and costumes, I counted 518 characters in total. I will not list them here. (Curiously absent, though? Hal Jordan. Interesting, that. True, he was retired at the time, but you’d think he’d have at least made a small appearance somewhere.)
As for whether Pérez has drawn the most DC characters…I believe that title would actually have to go to Keith Giffen, thanks to his legendary crowd scenes. (Infamously, the “Great Darkness Saga” storyline once required him to draw the ENTIRE POPULATION of the planet Daxam.) But in terms of NAMED characters, I’m going to call it for Pérez, with nothing but instinct to back me up. Prove me wrong!
A Gotham Farewell
When did Batman start disappearing on Jim Gordon mid-sentence?
There are two popular answers to this question, BatJamags. The difference is that one answer is correct, and the other is incorrect. There’s a somewhat popular answer to this question that the first time Batman pulls this stunt is in 1973’s Swamp Thing #7, the iconic issue by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson where Batman meets Swamp Thing for the first time. (You can see it above.)
And considering that Len Wein went on to become a prominent editor for DC over the next few decades, that may well be where the concept was popularized. But the actual first documented case of Batman ghosting Gordon occurred in a much lesser known issue a year earlier, in 1972’s Detective Comics #424:
This issue is particularly notable for a back-up story called “Batgirl’s Last Case,” where Barbara retired her cowl as Batgirl. But apart from that, this issue was edited by Julius Schwartz, a frequent collaborator of Wein’s, so it’s not unimaginable that this is where the legendary Swamp Thing co-creator picked up the idea and wrote it into Batman history.
The Father, the Son and the Holy Amazon
How did the term “DC Trinity” come about? When did that trio become a thing? Was it a development that happened gradually over time, given that they are, arguably, the three most popular DC characters? Or was there a specific story that cemented Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as the DC Trinity?
Well, moro, here’s the big secret that the Big DC Editorial Fat Cats don’t want you to know: the vaunted “Trinity” of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman is actually a relatively new concept. For the vast majority of DC history, these three standard-bearing heroes would never cross paths in a group without the rest of the Justice League of America to provide a buffer. Sure, Wonder Woman would team up with Superman or Batman on very rare occasions individually, but she was never as close to either hero as the “World’s Finest” were to each other until quite recently.
The first documented adventure featuring the iconic trio didn’t occur until 1985’s Superman Annual #11, the now classic tale “For the Man Who Has Everything,” where Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman help release Superman from the clutches of Mongul’s Black Mercy.
Even after that point, it was still rare to see the trio together. The first reference to them as DC’s “Trinity” was in Wonder Woman #140-141, for a story arc titled “Trinity ’98.” There, Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman are reunited in a psychological battle against…her invisible plane.
It really wasn’t until 2003 that the “Trinity” sobriquet fully caught on, with the launch of a limited series by the same name telling a retroactive origin story of how the three first came to meet one another. It was after that point, in the lead up to Infinite Crisis, that Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman came to be fully established as the three pillars which supported the DC Universe…mainly as defined by their notable absence in 2006’s 52. Upon their return, the now universally recognized Trinity reunited as the essential core of a newly reformed Justice League. Ever since, the Trinity has remained united in their respected position as the most essential figures in DC iconography. Well, them and Harley Quinn, I guess.
A Personal Question
Why the Question? I can’t imagine you only enjoy him for convenient wordplay and his sharp suit.
Well, not ONLY because of that. I like the Question because in Steve Ditko’s original stories and those he inspired, he never compromises once he sees the right course of action. He fights to uncover the hard beauty of truth in a world where lies are far more comfortable.
I like the Question because in Dennis O’Neil’s ’80s run, he’s allowed to evolve. To see that there are some things about the person he once was that he’s not too proud of, but that we are all capable of becoming something new.
I like the Question because in Dwayne McDuffie’s Justice League Unlimited, there was this skulking, bizarre faceless man who didn’t command the respect or awe that Batman did, but who was equally relentless in his pursuit of a mystery, if not more so. Because he was willing to do what others wouldn’t even dare consider, if only to avoid past—or future—mistakes.
I like the Question because, like many Ditko characters, it could be ANYONE under that mask. The Question shows us that all you need to do to be a hero is not be complacent. Don’t accept cruelty, injustice and lies as the way the world works. Sometimes, all that’s needed to be a hero is to summon enough courage to ask a question.
Wow! It’s hard to believe how many mysteries I’ve gotten the opportunity to address for you all over the years. And rest assured I have no plans of going anywhere. What I do for ASK…THE QUESTION is one of the great prides I have in my work and my life. Thank you all for taking this journey with me, and for the many more to come. Thank you for your curiosity, for your indulgence, and for the role you play in my life. Often, I’m learning the answers right alongside you and it’s that pursuit of truth which makes my dedication to this world ironclad. My love for DC, and the DC community at large, increases evermore every time you ASK…THE QUESTION.
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly “Ask the Question” column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.