Friday, October 22, 2010

What Kids Don't Know; Niles Caulder

You know, Niles Caulder wasn't always a
manipulative megalomaniacal jerk.

Once upon a time (1963 in fact), there was a very smart character named Niles Caulder. He was created by zany Bob Haney and Arnold Drake. Who were they? Zany Haney, well, let's just say he was a man who had his own perspective on the DC Universe, a view now dubbed the Haneyverse; if you're curious about that, just go here and search for Haney. Arnold Drake did many cool comic book things but all you really need to know is he wrote O.G.Whiz, which means I love him, and you do, too.

Arnold Drake wanted to create a character kind of like the ineffably cool Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's smarter, older brother. Bob Haney liked to write, well, weird stuff about weird people. Behaving weirdly. Put them together and you got: The Doom Patrol.

The central figure they created to hold the Doom Patrol together was Niles Caulder, an inventing genius. Niles liked his work so much that wasn't quite picky enough about who he did it for, and it came back to bite him in the butt. Just like Leni Riefenstahl; but that's a different story.

Anyway, his one employer tended to confuse Quality of Life with Quantity of Life: General Immortus. Immortus wanted to live forever, possibly because it's really embarrassing to die when your name's "Immortus". He and Niles has a disagreement while Niles while working on making him an immortality serum. The disagreement was probably over the fact that Immortus had planted a bomb inside of Niles to keep him compliant. That's often a sticking point in union / management negotiations.

Niles managed to get the bomb out, but crippled himself in the process, leaving himself wheelchair-bound. But Niles was a great guy, with a great mind, so he wanted to help himself and other people like him, other great people whose greatness had been hampered by unfortunate accidents.

Daredevil race-car driver Cliff Steele, beautiful athlete and movie star Rita Farr, and hotshot test pilot Larry Trainer all become freaks after, um, freak accidents. Niles helped them cope with their conditions and find new purpose in life. They became not mere celebrities but heroes, using their new freakish conditions to help regular people and save lives.

Niles was a noble man, who not only overcame his own handicap, he helped others who might have otherwise wallowed in self-pity become saviors and inspirations to the world. And, after only five years on the comic scene, their final ending (in 1968) -- knowingly sacrificing themselves for a small group of total strangers -- was the capstone to their epic tale of rising above adversity.

UNTIL... two of most damaging blows ever dealt to the American psyche:

Watergate and Grant Morrison.

Of course, the Watergate scandal certainly wasn't solely responsibility for the American people's loss of confidence and trust in government and authority, but it surely symbolizes it. As a result of this growing cynicism, the world was ready for a less than flattering portrayal of the Doom Patrol's authority figure, Niles Caulder.

When the original Doom Patrol (more or less) were reunited in the late 1980s, Grant Morrison at liberty to write Niles Caulder cynically as a vicious, manipulative murderer. Since Morrison's re-start of the DP, we've learned that Niles orchestrated the accidents that gave the DP their powers, that he killed superhero Joshua Clay in cold blood, that he manipulates and lies to the DP and the entire superhero community. Lately he's been in cahoots with the evil President Cale of Oolong Island, the nation of villains, has commandeered a Kryptonian body and used it to attack the Doom Patrol and begin a takeover of the world.

Now, if you're a kid and never read any comics written before, oh, 1988, you might never know that this now-accepted version of Niles Caulder is just a cynical shellacking of a once great character with a modern disbelief in the idea of authority figures who truly wish to help change the world for the better while maintaining their own morality as well.

Once upon time, Niles Caulder (along with his teammates) was an inspiring model of devotion to the greater good, the human ability to overcome tragedy, and the power of avoiding self-pity through helping others. Now, he's a symbol of modern conspiracy-theory paranoia, distrust of authority, and anti-intellectualism.

The real Niles Caulder is still out there, kids; in fact, he recently guest-starred on the Batman: Brave & The Bold series. It's time you demanded to have him back as arole model, as my generation had, rather than the twisted mockery of him that your disillusioned elders have shafted you with.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

King for a Haikuesday

I just love it when DC refuses to let any old character go permanently unused.

Often, it'll be a simple cameo. Just when you're not looking, the Crispus Allen will roll over that brutally beaten street cop whose mutilated corpse they found in an alley in Gotham's Abandoned Warehouse District and it'll be none other than Percival Popp. He was asking for it, really.

For example, who can forget when those lovable, well-meaning Three Dim
wits, so fondly remembered as whimsical irritants to Jay Garrick in his light-hearted Golden Age adventures, were found hacked to death in the Flash Museum last year? Good times.

I call these "Cameos... of DOOM!" Remember how Terry Sloane died?

Sometimes rather than a Cameo...of DOOM! they'll get the "quilt-patched". DC will craft more substantial roles for them, hoping to weave the half-life of the Q Ratings into some new property. Often it some sort of Frankenstein project, a patchwork quilt of characters with visas from Limbo stretched out over some 'modernizing' framework. You know the kind of thing: Checkmate, Suicide Squad, Primal Force, Shadowpact, the New Guardians.

Other times, they get better treatment, usually as a supporting character in the cast of someone more iconic. For example, the Quality Comics character Quicksilver was repurposed as "Max Mercury" to augment the Flash supporting cast. Maggie Sawyer, a wonderful, criminally underused and undervalued character in the Superman books...

whom the writers stopped using.

Now she's got a second life in the Batman books-- as a wonderful, criminally underused and undervalued character whom the writers stopped using.

Don't worry; Maggie's a big girl and can take care of herself. She'll be back, once lesbians are in fashion again. Probably when the latest vampire craze fades out.

On such character is King Faraday. King Faraday was a secret agent character introduced in 1950. When superheroes faded from fashion (just like lesbians!) after World War II, comic book publishers diversified again into a wide variety of genres, such as espionage thrillers.

You probably know him from his role as the Martian Manhunter's handler in New Frontier (the book and the movie). But now he's palling around with the Crusaders-- who are themselves re-imagined old characters (specifically the old MLJ Comics heroes, including regular Absorbascon whipping boys, The Shield and the Hangman).

Characters like King Faraday are impressively resilient and make places for themselves with their ingenuity. As demonstrated by his ability to haiku under pressure---
Don't listen to him!
He's just trying to martyr
himself for his cause.

So casually composed; very impressive! Have you a haiku to reply, or other commentary on Faraday and his ilk?