Saturday, December 03, 2022

Publishing House of Mysteries

As I mentioned yesterday, CBR is constitutionally, DEFIANTLY wrong, so this latest bit should be no surprise.  I suppose none of what CBR does along these lines should surprise me. The whole clickbait/generic lisicle style is pervasive on internet topic sites of any kind; it's just the one that algorithms shove in my face most frequently, due to the topics.

It's not that I merely disagree with any of the opinions implied, but rather that there ARE no opinions really implied. These are not lists or positions taken by, say, an actual blogger/vlogger with their own vision.  Those might be interesting or engaging. Rather, CBR's articles might as well all be titled "Most Publicly Recognizable Examples of X" or "Assertion that Throwaway in Recent Issue is a Permanent Continuity Change" or "Everyone Has Forgotten An Important Thing That Is No Longer Even Remotely In Continuity If It Ever Was".  

But the linked article, "10 Biggest Mysteries in DC Comics", is just face-punchingly mislabeled, when it is, at best, "10 Most High-Profile Reveals That Were Actually Retcons."  It did, however, jog me into considering the legitimate question: 

What are the 10 "biggest" mysteries in DC comics? And by "mysteries" I do NOT mean "unanswered questions" like the Joker's real name, the Phantom Stranger's origins, or how DID the Giant Penny in there, anyway. 

[Any replies addressing those issues will be deleted.]

I mean, you know, ACTUAL MYSTERIES.  

Like the kind Ace Investigator SPEED SAUNDERS used to solve.

Things that are mysteries to us and to some of the characters, things that they and we are challenged to solve (fairly or not). You know, real Kay Daye, Christine Ariadne stuff. 

I'll concede, I doubt I can even LIST ten, so I'm asking in advance for YOUR help. No matter how years later you may read this, please add any good ones you think of. Because otherwise all people will think of BS like "Hush". P.S. Don't list "Hush", which not merely some BS, but some ****.

I can think of plenty of crappy DC "mysteries": Identity Crisis, Long Halloween, Hush, Zero Hour (Who is Extant?), Every Silver Age Story With A Mystery Hero, Terry Sloane's Murder, The Joker's Daughter, The Wild Dog Mystery.  But what were the good ones? And why aren't there more of them?  I mean, DC does stand for "Detective Comics", after all.

Our nation needs Ace Investigator Speed Saunders again.

Here are some that I remember as definite positive stand-outs.

Who Killed Myndi Mayer?

This was certainly among the most affecting mysteries I have ever read in comics (don't spoil it for anyone).  Myndi Mayer wasn't a disposable walk-on or side character.

Myndi Mayer was a substantial supporting character, an ongoing, vibrant, and unique member of Wonder Woman's cast at the time.  She was a Strong Female Character of a sort, in the sense that she was an independent, successful businesswoman (she was Wonder Woman's publicist), but she was no angel, which was refreshing for a WW character.  She was grounded in a way that innocent Diana, new to "Man's World" in those days was not, and she made helped her transition from Paradise Island possible for Diana and believable to us.

That really should be the function of WW supporting cast-- grounding her -- whether they be an Etta Candy, an I Ching, or a Hoppy (not the bunny, the fast food worker).

But Myndi was found one night with a bullet in her head and the mystery was:

And quite a mystery it was.  It was AWESOME because it was the LAST thing you expected from WONDER WOMAN. But there she was: stuck in a murder mystery, the victim a close friend of hers, and she was unable to punch something or just magically lasso everybody into confessing. Eventually she DID solve the mystery and because of all those things it was incredibly impactful. And for other reasons, but you deserve to read it yourself.  

I can honestly say there is no mystery in comics that affected me more. There are still occasions, forty years later now, where some real world happening will prompt me to say: "Hm; Who killed Myndi Mayer, indeed?"

Who is Sensor Girl?

Although this mystery probably OBSESSED me (and everyone else) more.  I assured you nobody obsessed as much over all of the things on CBR's list COMBINED as they did over this. People LOST SLEEP over it!

I know because I kept them up talking about it.

It's a Legion of Super-Heroes' mystery and LSH LOVES mysteries, almost all of which have the form "Who is?"  But this is the greatest LSH "Who is?" mystery of all time.

Sensor Girl was a character who joined the Legion but kept her identity and the precise nature of her powers secret.  This violates, like, 47 of their little Constitutional Rules, about which they are quite fussy. But Saturn Girl says "I vouch for her", which immediately ENDS that subject, because nobody-but-nobody in the Legion crosses Saturn Girl.

You... do not want to cross Saturn Girl. Or doubt her.
Or suggest that that costume makes her look trampy.
(from Legion #90, a very memorable issue from Tom Peyer's very memorable run)

Sensor Girl was a mystery that stumped the most intelligent person in the DCU: Brainiac 5.  

Who has a 12th Level Intelligence, in case no one has mentioned it yet this issue.

Most people thought she was Supergirl. Her demonstrated variety of powers did seem consistent with that theory, but she seemed to have weaknesses inconsistent with it.  I knew it wasn't Supergirl because she had this flair about her that Supergirl could never have. Supergirl was a sad sack; Sensor Girl was a big old drama queen.

With a wicked pimp slap.

Eventually, Brainiac DID figure it out because, well, he's the most intelligent person in the DCU and that IS his power in the Legion so, how else could the story end?

He also pointed out that the answer was obvious and that you were an idiot for not figuring it out, because making you feel stupid is his other power.

But the real story is: with no internet hive-mind to solve it, this mystery OBSESSED anyone who knew anything about the Legion and was a high-point for Legion obsession and if you know anything about the Legion, you know that obsession is, um... well, knowing anything about the Legion and being obsessed with the Legion are pretty much the same thing, aren't they?

The Geoff Johns' Mysteries 

Geoff Johns is basically Nancy Drew or, if you prefer, a Solo Hardy Boy.  Geoff tells a very particular type of mystery, one especially designed to reward comic history aficionados.  A Big Event is building in one book or across many (or perhaps... on a television show); it's got lots of players and several appear to be driving the events. But it doesn't QUITE all add up.  

And you can't quite tell whether that's just, you know, how it's written or whether ... there's something else.  So MUCH comic book writing has big plot holes that we accustom ourselves to not questioning too much. Comic book roads are full of plot holes, so we've equipped our mind-cars with such extra shock-absorbers and heavy tires that it's easy to overlook it when we really DO run over a dead body.

Unlike Ace Investigator Speed Saunders,
who ALWAYS notices these things.

Geoff Johns takes advantage of that and ALWAYS hides things right in plain sight...right in our blind spots.  There is always Something Else, and that Something Else is always a Piece of DC History He Remembers Which You Forgot.

Blackest Night?  Nekron, refugee from a blacklight poster. Who even READ that first story?!

JSA: Darkness Falls? Ian Karkull, who fought Dr. Fate. Twice.

I mean, only ROY THOMAS remembered Ian Karkull.

Doomsday Clock? Dan Didio.
Oh, I mean, "Dr. Manhattan". Dr Manhattan screwed up the DCU.

You can think of others; you get the idea.  I love 'em, but they are all sufficiently similar that I lump them together.  I'm not being dismissive; it's the kind of thing that a Brad Meltzer tries to pull off but can't.


Speaking of Watchmen, it is ... a lot.  So much to think about. It's been part of our comic book history for so long that it's easy to forget--especially if you weren't alive when it came out--that it was, first and (at least apparently) foremost, a MURDER MYSTERY: who killed The Comedian?  But I still remember discussing the theories with my boyfriend at the time.  

I remember keeping him up all night talking about it.

I don't remember whether I or anyone else was surprised at the time. It's not like there were any 'bad guys' to choose from after all.  

Australian Lex Luthor Junior

I wasn't sure whether to count this as a mystery per se, but "Who is Australian Lex Luthor Junior and whose side is he on?!" was a definite PUZZLE of GREAT power during its time. 

And it's time was LONG.  It was SO long. That was what sold it.  No one could believe that DC had the attention span to hoax us that long. But in those days, the glory days of The Superman Triangle Comics, they did indeed.  They convinced their entire readership that Lex had died and been replaced by his illegitimate son from Australia. Over time it was impossible to believe this person

was this person

There was so much to like about the new Lex.

Possibly more than we can imagine.

In a way, he was still a challenge to Superman, even though he was a GOOD guy, not a bad guy. He was a challenge by BEING a good guy. Supergirl became disenchanted with Superman and became Lex's girlfriend, enchanted by seeing what he could do without even any powers.  Superman, with his minimalist approach to intervention, looked like a slacker compared to Junior's proactive approach to improving Metropolis. It seemed as though DC had decided that was a new, mature tack for the concept of "Lex Luthor" and really had throw out the scheming greedy egoistical big-brained madman of the past.

But in fact...


Still one of the greatest panels in comics.

The whole thing was just so damned... COMIC BOOKY. In a GOOD way. They just WENT THERE. And it was GLORIOUS to realize you had been lovingly duped for OVER TWO YEARS.  DC can't even go two years now without a crossover that reboots the entire mutliverse, let alone stay the course on this sort of thing.

Can you image DC doing anything like that now? :-)

But enough of my remembrances: what are YOUR favorite mysteries from DC comics?


Anonymous said...

I remember when the LSH "Great Darkness" Saga first came out; the bad guy's identity was a mystery. I don't know how well-concealed the identity would be these days, because Darkseid has been given such oversized exposure. But back then, Darkseid existed mostly in a rarely-visited corner of the DC Universe, and Levitz and Giffen were careful to draw things just off-model enough that you wouldn't say "hey, that's a Boom Tube". I was proud of my teenaged self for guessing it was probably that "Darkseid" guy whom I'd seen once or twice.

Speaking of comics available at the local E-Z shop in the early 1980s ...

"Nekron, refugee from a blacklight poster. Who even READ that first story?!"


- HJF1

Scipio said...

"HJF1" See? This is where that helps.

Bryan L said...

Your homework assignments are tough.

I don't know if I can call it a favorite but Zatanna's search for Zatara ran on for a while. I did find it interesting that it ran as a crossover -- back then DC did more standalone stories.

More recently, I don't think Geoff Johns has ever explained the version of Crimson Avenger he created. *Checks Wikipedia* Well, if that's to be believed all of the information about her is from fans, not Johns.

There's also Who is Donna Troy? But perhaps that stone is best left unturned. Nameless orphan rescued by Wonder Woman works better than the "solved" mystery did. I'm completely uncertain about her current canonical origin. I suppose I could try to figure it out, but I suspect that way madness lies.

Scipio said...

" that way madness lies"

Impressive reference.

Someone should make a list of all of Geoff's Unfinished Symphonies and present them on the internet. Maybe he'll take the hint and finish some of them. I think Geoff Johns was put on this Earth to drive Roy Thomas crazy.

Scipio said...

Well, I didn't intend to wander down the warren of Donna Troy's origin, which isn't a mystery, but an unresolved plothole. SHe was a writer/editor error. When they created the Teen Titans, nobody realized that "Wonder Girl" wasn't a separate character from Wonder Woman. That may seem incredible to us NOW, but it was a very different world then. The simplest solution has always been to GO with that: she's young WW from another earth, stuck on this one. Why that simple solution has never been tried is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

“Who is ‘Duchess?’”

The Ostrander/ Yale/ McDonnell/ et al Suicide Squad is one of my favorite comics ever. Early in the run, a super-strong woman with amnesia showed up. She was nicknamed, “Duchess.” Suicide Squad head honcho Amanda Waller knew there was something fishy about her. In time, her identity became apparent, but not her reasons for staying with the team. Waller saw her as a useful tool, and decided to keep her on the squad. When “Duchess’s” plans came to fruition, the team paid the price for Waller’s decision…

- Mike Loughlin

Bryan L said...

I didn't explain myself clearly. I wasn't referring to the ongoing dumpster fire that is the character of Wonder Girl.

I was referring specifically to the story, Who Is Donna Troy? presented in Teen Titans (I think maybe an annual -- seems like it was oversized). Donna goes to Dick Grayson, one of the world's foremost detectives, for his help in discovering why she was abandoned in a burning building. She wants to clear it up before her wedding. He then does so.

The story was notable to me in that it's one of the few or even only times I've ever seen actual detective work depicted in comics. Probably inaccurately, but the attempt was made. Mostly "detection" is portrayed as flashes of insight rather than forensic investigation (or whatever it is Speed Saunders does).

It was less notable in its outcome, which was, to me, meh. Donna didn't gain much, if anything, from the investigation. I suppose I'm too harsh on the story, since I do recall it as an example of detective work in DC Comics.

Scipio said...

"whatever it is Speed Saunders does"

It's the Biggest Mystery of Them All.

Scipio said...

I think, "Why couldn't the writers have allowed me the blessing of dying in a fire as an infant instead of marrying Terry Long?" would have been a more compelling mystery.

Bryan L said...

I agree with you.

cybrid said...

Speaking of Suicide Squad, does "who's throwing the pies" qualify as a mystery? :-)

BTW, Scipio, I recently came across an image from World's Finest #172 (1967) that I'm reasonably sure you'll find interesting. :-)