Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Dominators in ... "The Unkillables!"

This is the story I mentioned before, the one that introduced the Dominators into the DCU in 1967. The Dominators are a perfect example of a phenomenon I call "los Boomerangeros": characters introduced as a throwaway plot device in a (usually Silver Age) story, winds up come back as pillar figure in later stories.

Copperhead, the Mad Hatter, Bizarro, Metallo, Star Boy, Ultra-Boy, Mon-El; they and many others are Boomerangeros, because if you read their first appearances you'll be surprised how secondary they are. They are merely slapdash props used in stories whose real focus is Secret Identity Farces, Jealousy Dramas, Apparent Betrayals, Inverted Expectations or any of the other tedious soap opera plots characteristic of Silver Age DC comics. Only later do other writers fill such characters out and make them into pillars of their respective mythologies.

Such was the fate of the Dominators. But how did these alien Boomerangeros start out?

The plot of their initial story, "the Unkillables", requires the existence of some political bad guys that the Legion must protect to facilitate a peace treaty. So instantly we are informed that the United Planets has been at war with an imperialistic race known subtly as "the Dominators".

Really? The entire UP in a 20 year war, huh? Amazing how something that important's never once been mentioned before in any Legion story. I guess CNN doesn't survive to the 30th Century.

Anyway, a lot of people are none too happy about the prospect of the Dominators receiving an easy peace.

The "Panties Against Peace" Rally

The Dominators destroy not only planets ... but pants.
Curse those disc-heads! "Stay the course!"

What are the Legionnaires doing, while war has been ravaging the UP for the last 20 years? Oh, you know, the usual ...

Chopping wood.

I detest Karate Kid; martial artistry is not a superpower,
and KK represents to me all pathetic attempts to create fad-based characters.
And, no, Vibe does not count.


I love Triplicate Girl/Duo Damsel. Her power's not overwhelming in force, but it is overwhelming in concept; you can imagine what it's like to be any of the Legionnaires -- except her, because how she perceives the world is incommensurable with our unary worldview. Plus, she can pull off wearing orange and purple, which is more of a superpower than "super-karate". Oh, and, as former Second Foil on the Dartmouth Fencing Team, I'm delighted to see that fencing enjoys a renaissance in the 30th century.

Lifting weights

If you read a lot of Legion, you'll notice this is pretty much all B5 and Superboy do in their spare time. Variations of this scene have appeared in scores of Legion stories over the years. Does Brainiac 5 have a crush fetish? What is this adolescent literalist fascination with how much weight Superboy can lift? I think he and B5 must be the secret editors of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

So these exciting leisure activities are interrupted by an urgent summons from the UP president, who's going to assign them to escort the Dominators to a peace conference. On the way to visit him, the Legionnaires pass through all manner of "futuristic" security measures, including this personal favorite:

The X-Ray Tunnel
Film? FILM?!?!?! How... quaint.
Apparently, old-school photography (along with fencing)
experiences a renaissance among spies in the 30th century.
I blame Elastic Lad.

Oh, before we return to the story proper, I wanted to share some slides of a party I went to during my vacation in the 30th century; thanks for the invite, Blockade Boy!

Notice that I always put up a struggle at such events;
adds spice to the proceedings.

So, anyway, this guy, "the Master" has a plan to wipe out the Dominator peace ambassadors and their protectors, the Legion:

He also has a copy of the Starman Archives under his pillow, I bet.

The Master ensures that his "unkillable" assassins are armed with the latest in 30th century killing technology:

A blade. Hah! Let's see the Legion of Super-Heroes stop that!

Meanwhile, the Dominators meet with the Legion.

The Dominators are the "opening act" for the Unkillables:
"Are you ready to rock, Cleveland? We are ... the Dominators!"

Note well that the Dominators have no noses or lips or regular eyeballs. This'll come up later.

The Legionnaires do what any sensible person called upon to escort endangered ambassadors would do: take a short-cut through the Tenth Dimension. You know, the Tenth Dimension, which has never been mentioned before and will never be mentioned again. Try to keep up, will you?

So, naturally, along the way, there are lots of narrow escapes from death traps and attacks by the Unkillables, but Colossal Boy still finds time to do what he does best: fall on his hands and knees.

That rock in the background? Never heard from again.

When the Legion finally defeats the Unkillables, the Master is unmasked as the former political leader of the Dominators, thrown out of office by the Dominators' Peace Faction. The Dominator, who has no nose or lips or visible eyeballs, was the Master, who clearly had a nose and lips and visible eyeballs underneath his mask.

This is how you can tell the Silver Age is nearing its end; in the High Silver Age, whoever removed his mask would have said, "His mask was doctored to give the appearance of human features, so that no one would suspect he was a Dominator!" But that kind of loving attention to Literary Craft faded toward the end of the Silver Age. That's how the world ends, folks: not with a bang but a whimper.

When the Unkillables are unmasked, they are, of course, exactly who you would expect them to be:

The brainwashed superpowered 30th Century lookalike descendants of a few famous human assassins like Lee Harvey Oswald, Brutus & Cassius, and John Wilkes Booth (none of whom, if I recall correctly, had any children).

Well, of course. I mean, who else would you use to assassinate political figures?

So that's the story of the introduction of the Dominators into the DCU. But isn't something missing? How can it be a real Legion story without some sort of cruel trick played on well-meaning friends and companions?

Phew! I was worried for a second! Fortunately it turned out than the "ambassadors" were just high-tech phantasms used as decoy, a cruel trick played on the duped Legionnaries; now it's a real Legion story.

P.S. One last note: although I usually am pretty hard on those who look for what they call "racism" in every balloon and panel. But the Dominators received a rather severe makeover from their original blue appearance...

I must confess I'm certain that the visual revamp of the Dominators is brilliant resonant (consciously or unconsciously) of the vilification of the "Japanazis" in WWII.

Gee, wizened yellow-skinned big-toothed long-nailed be-robed aliens who've supressed their individuality as part of their severely hierarchical imperialism as symbolized by a big red sphere ... maybe it's just a coincidence?


Bill D. said...

Reed Richards was always making the Thing lift ridiculously large and heavy objects over at Marvel, too. Must be a fetish for supehero scientists or something.

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

But I love the retro vein in which these small time stories get blown up into full-on multi-crisis-on infinite parallel zone-earths!

I love how Kang morphed into the whole Marvel multi-verse with Rama Tut and Immortus (and maybe even Doc Doom) from this bizarre dude that just showed up in Avengers #8 for no good reason.

I think that Busiek did the best send up on that in his great Astro City story where the equivalent of Paste Pot Pete gets his hands on "Time Gloves" and messes up the entire time stream. That wasn't the point of the story, but it certainly fits the bill!

Anonymous said...

Of course martial arts is a super-power! Hasn't anime taught us anything?

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding! That big rock in the background played a crucial role in Zero Hour!

Anonymous said...

Brutus and Cassius as villains? WTF?

I'm not sure but I believe Cassius did have children. His wife is eulogized at the end of the second book of Tacitus' Ab Excessu Divi Augusti and the Cassius Nero executed was a descendent, though I'm not sure if a direct one.

I love the term "los Boomerangeros"; that's great.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back Scip, we missed you!

I mean, where else can we get recaps of you 'struggling' oh-so-hard before getting strapped in to an Orgasmotron, (swoon) Colossal Bottom indulging, and Superboy and Brainy taking a well deserved vacation together?

Seriously, welcome back, I was going into withdrawals.

Scipio said...

"Dare I bring up Who Wants to be a Soopa-hero?"

Oh, I'll be getting to that...

Anonymous said...

Was there any real way to guess the identity of the Unkillables? Did they leave weird clues, like a book registered to the depository in Dallas, a blood splattered toga or even a program from Ford's Theatre?
Seems like they shouldn't be making challenges without giving people a real chance to solve the mystery.

Scipio said...

"Was there any real way to guess the identity of the Unkillables?"

No. There wasn't.

That's why they could defy you safely.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know when the Dominators first appeared with their modern look?

Anonymous said...

1) Welcome back
2) Sorry about Major Victory. I can't belive Fat Momma is in position to win this thing.
3) The worst part about Karate Kid is that he picked a functionally limited martial art. In real world applications of martial art contests, karate has been thoroughly dominated by other superior disciplines -- jiu-jitsu, muay thai kickboxing,freestyle and greco-roman wrestling, judo, and sambo to name just a few. Not only does Karate Kid have no powers, but he would also be easily defeated by other martial artists with no powers like Jiu-Jitsu Kid or Freestyle Wrestling Lass or Judomaster (copyright, Charlton Comics.) So, yeah -- Karate Kid is the pits.

But he did star in a great story written by Paul Levitz where he had to fulfill a last request by going to a hostile planet and performing a risk-filled mission. Without giving it away, I found the ending to that story to be genuinely touching.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea that the Dominators were around for that long. I always learn something new here...or, laugh my ass off...or both.

Anyway, welcome back and I'm SO sad about our Major Victory! I can't believe he's gone. I shed a tear in memory of him.

Jamie Ott said...

Welcome back, Scip. I never realized the Dominators went so far back. I'm still trying to figure out how they are going to fit into '52' (outside of the whole 'genebomb' thing).

What about the Fourth World stuff? (Besides Egg Fu, that is) Any plans on covering them for this? We've seen a lot if hints throughout 52 of their involvement but a lot of people do not know them outside of S:TAS and JLU.

Maybe the Dominators provided Apokolips with the gene-manipulation technology being used by Luthor and E.F.

The folks over at the CBR forums pointed out that the Boom Tube technology makes giants smaller (the 4th world folks are all giants) and smaller folks (humans) bigger. Hence, Devilance being so big relative to what we've seen (he didn't use a boom tube) and Hawkgirl being a giant as it was a Boom Tube that hit the Zeta Beam.


Anonymous said...

the legion geek in me remembers that the Dominators first showed up with the yellow skin in the late 70's Levitz/Sherman/Staton Earthwar storyline. But yeah that Invasion Cover, designed by Giffen i believe, is pure "yellow-menace" pulp influenced. i always hated the Unkillables. Though i liked the Jim Mooney art on that issue.

Michael said...

Yeah, the Dominators' next appearance after this was in Earthwar (Superboy/LSH 241-245 - worthy of its own TPB). The cover to Invasion #1, shown above, was drawn by Todd McFarlane in his hyper-stylized fashion, and for what it's worth, that has pretty much set the standard for their modern usage (high forehead, elongated teeth).

Anonymous said...

The geek in me must mention that Karate Kid was an expert at ALL martial arts, I think.

But Karate-Judo-Tae Bo-Wrestling-KickBoxing Kid is too hard to say.

What's this about the BOOM TUBE making things larger and smaller? I missed that.

Jamie Ott said...

Wikipedia Entry on Boom tubes

Look under the "Later Additons to the Concept" section. The article even mentions this could be why Devliance was so big in 52.

Basically, a Boom tube crossed the Zeta beam the space heroes were riding home. Ala Ghostbusters, these are two streams that should never cross. Bad things happened to everyone such as Hawkgirl arriving as a giant and Mal ending up with Reddy's voicebox.


gorjus said...

Karate Kid got in the Legion not because he was good at karate, but because he had mastered a type of martial arts where he could smash through steel! Check out Val Armorr's section on Wikipedia.

And you call yourself Legionnaires! But yeah, that Levitz/Lightle story was AWEXXOME.

Anonymous said...

Dartmouth fencing team?
Wait, you mean I'm not the only DC fan who is absolutely smitten with golden age Starman, can't fathom Marvel, still reads comics regularly though he recently entered his 30s, and fenced while attending Dartmouth?

Hmmm... this must not be Earth Prime after all.

Scipio said...

h pfabe: My theory is that you are me, temporally displaced by 10 or so years.

The modern fencing team was first started during my time at the school by Matt Keener and Peter Who's Surname I Can't Remember.

Anonymous said...

I was class of '98, so it was a "club" at that point.

Wait, if I'm you... does that explain my warm feelings for Major Victory as well?

Anonymous said...

2nding halben's observation, and adding:

There's something disingenuous about the guy who created improbably-endowed Striperalla saying that a hero needs to keep their costume on all the time.

T said...

"I must confess I'm certain that the visual revamp of the Dominators is brilliant resonant (consciously or unconsciously) of the vilification of the 'Japanazis' in WWII.

"Gee, wizened yellow-skinned big-toothed long-nailed be-robed aliens who've supressed their individuality as part of their severely hierarchical imperialism as symbolized by a big red sphere ... maybe it's just a coincidence?"

Great guns, you're right! They even have the red sun of the Japanese flag on their foreheads!

Scipio said...

It seems so obvious that I'm almost suprised they "got away" with it; that's the kind of thing George Lucas got crucified for.

And yet, I've never heard anyone mention it...

Still, I love it. It's not the kind of thing one wants to do to other humans, but it's the kind of thing Evil Extraterrestials were made for...!