Hello. I’m Alex Jaffe, better known in our Community as HubCityQuestion. My personal mission: to take on any question you have about the DC Universe -- no matter how granular, obscure, or strange -- and present you with an answer. As a faithful steward of the truth, I offer my time in this weekly column to address these inquiries. If you’d like to submit one of your own, you can stop by my office at any time in our lively Community to state your case, which I will address in turn to the best of my ability. It’s a dangerous world out there, so please continue to remain indoors as I brave the wilds of the comic book cosmos to find the answers you crave.
GOD ONLY KNOWS
“In the DC Universe if there are “New Gods,” what happened to the “old” ones? How does all that relate to, you know, God God (if at all)?”
There came a time when the old gods died! The brave died with the cunning! The noble perished, locked in battle with unleashed evil! It was the last day for them! An ancient era was passing in fiery holocaust! The final moment came with the fatal release of indescribable power--which tore the home of the old gods asunder--split it in great halves--and filled the universe with the blinding death-flash of its destruction!
This was the introduction offered by Jack Kirby himself in the opening pages of The New Gods #1, in 1971. But to truly understand where the New Gods were coming from, we have to get into a bit of cross-company publication history.
Back in the 1960s, Jack Kirby was working on a Norse mythology inspired series called “Tales of Asgard” for a certain Marvelous rival company. During this run, Kirby began seeding his own take on the mythological world ending event of Ragnorok -- one which would clear away all the Norse gods of old (with perhaps a few exceptions), and replace them in a powerful wave of energy with an entirely new, original pantheon. But before Kirby could implement his idea, he migrated back to the world of DC Comics which he had previously graced in the 1940s.
There, Kirby continued to develop his “New Gods” concept, but filed off the overt references to the original universe for which it was developed. At a few points through Kirby’s multi-title “Fourth World” saga, the Old Gods are identified at least in depiction as possibly the old Norse ones, whom the New Gods were born to replace, restoring cosmic balance after that “fiery holocaust.”
However, in the confines of the DC Universe, the Old Gods are not overtly the gods of Asgard -- merely analogues to them. Just as the classical Greek Pantheon fills the cast of Wonder Woman comics, the Norse gods still play occasional roles in the deific doings of the DCU (albeit a reduced one, likely to avoid comparisons with certain rival publishers).
This all occurred 10 billion years before the modern era of the DC Universe, and the Old Gods have largely been forgotten. Many of them now compose the building blocks of the Source Wall, which keeps the godly power of creation from flooding the universe.
As for their relation to “God God,” as you put it, a brief lesson in theology may be in order. Think of both the Old Gods and the New as iterations of European polytheistic religion, both inspired by similar Norse traditions such as they were. The idea that the universe itself is created and overseen by a single God figure is one which has become quite popular in Western tradition today, but has not always been shared. Rather, the gods of these traditions were powerful, though still flawed, otherworldly beings who sometimes influenced the course of humanity, but mostly squabbled amongst themselves within the confines of their own realms. One could appeal to evoke their favor, but they weren’t necessarily watching, governing, or influencing our every moves.
The existence of “The Source,” in Kirby lore, suggests a more powerful, unknowable force at work to which the Old Gods and the New both answered. Only Highfather, leader of the New Gods of Apokolips, could invoke messages of prophecy from the Source to inform their OWN direction, suggesting the New Gods themselves were beholden to a higher power. While Kirby himself kept the true nature of The Source intentionally vague, later writers would further distinguish it as separate from the monotheistic idea of God we know today, but rather an expression of a purely elemental force of creation -- that “fatal release of indescribable power,” perhaps, that Kirby alluded to way back in the first issue of this always ongoing saga.
The closest thing the DC Universe has to the God which is more familiar to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic cultures is the entity referred to as The Presence, also referred to as “The Voice” or “The Hand,” who mainly figures into comics about The Spectre. First written by Jerry Siegel, who grew up steeped in Jewish tradition, The Spectre was designed as a powerful, vengeful agent of truly divine retribution. No direct correlation has yet to be (or likely ever will be) made between The Presence and the Gods of Old or New -- except perhaps in Vertigo’s original Lucifer series, which only takes a moment to establish The Presence and The Source as distinct and unrelated concepts. Religion, after all, is such a ponderous thing.
“When was Cyborg first shown to fly? And is it ever addressed why he wasn’t able to fly before?”
Hey, KoolKris! If that number is your birthday, then we have the same one! That’s this month, folks, and I will accept gifts in the form of a question.
Technically speaking, Victor Stone’s first foray into flight was during 1998’s Technis Imperative story arc, where Cyborg’s consciousness was implanted into a more powerful golden body with a whole list of new abilities. But that was more of a temporary situation.
Cyborg was first shown to fly under his own mechanized auspices during his reinvention for The New 52, reintroducing the Teen Titan as a charter member of the Justice League. As part of this profile boost, Cyborg got a whole host of power upgrades he never had access to before. The most notable of these was a Mother Box in his chest, which allowed him to open up Boom Tubes. But after being separated from his cybernetic implants by G.R.I.D. during “Forever Evil,” Victor was stabilized in 2014’s Justice League #27 by his father, Dr. Silas Stone, and worked alongside him to build him better than before, with the new functions he needed to take on the Crime Syndicate of America. One of these functions: powerful “jump jets” built into his feet, which would allow him to leap hundreds of miles at a time. But through Cyborg’s tenure with the Justice League, Victor never demonstrates enough control over those jump jets to truly fly through the air.
That remains true until the 2015 Cyborg series, which follows Victor as he pushes the nanotechnology which underlies his inner workings to new limits. I believe that Cyborg #7 is the first issue where he’s seen taking true flight, redirecting his path in midair and landing softly. But while he has been depicted as capable of flight- most notably, in the 2017 Justice League film- Cyborg more typically tends to get around through rocket-powered leaps or Boom Tubes.
MR. SANDMAN, BRING ME UP TO 9 DREAMS
“How many characters have held the mantle of Sandman?”
Not as many as Starman, and WAY fewer than Green Lantern (cosmically speaking), but still quite a number! As with any complex Super Hero legacy, defining the real hard figure is rather complicated. Depending on the width of your definition, the answer could be as low as 5, or as high as 9 if you want to get silly about it. Let’s get silly about it.
1. Wesley Dodds -- the original Golden Age Sandman, gasmasked noir-tinted mystery man and member of the JSA. He was later reinvented with a more superheroic flair and given a sidekick, Sandy the Golden Boy.
2. Garrett Sanford -- Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the ‘70s, this Sandman patrolled the “Dream Dimension” to protect the waking world from nightmares.
3. Hector Hall -- son of Hawkman and Hawkwoman, Hector was an Infinity, Inc. member who took over for in patrolling the Dream Dimension after the untimely demise of Sanford.
4. Morpheus, Dream of the Endless -- One of the most cosmically significant characters in the deep lore of the DC Universe, and lord of all dreams. Created by Neil Gaiman, Morpheus is the proprietor of The Dreaming itself, of which the “Dream Dimension” is a mere pocket.
5. Kieran Marshall -- introduced in the 2007 limited series Sandman Mystery Theatre: Sleep of Reason, Marshall was a modern day photojournalist in Afghanistan who took up the identity of Sandman as inspired by the Golden Age exploits of Wesley Dodds.
Those are the five unquestionable, discrete Sandmen to which we can point. Now we get into arguable territory:
6. Sandy Hawkins -- originally “Sandy the Golden Boy,” introduced during the original Sandman’s tenure as his trusty kid sidekick. In the 2007 relaunch of the Justice Society of America, Sandy takes on his old mentor’s legacy as the team’s recon operative, but simply goes by “Sand.”
7. Doctor Somnambula -- this version of Sandman, unique to the continuity of the 1960s Batman TV series, was an evil scientist who used his background in sleep research to commit crimes through Europe and Gotham City.
8. Daniel Hall -- the son of Hector and Lyta Hall, born in the Dream Dimension. Because of this strange circumstance, Lord Morpheus claimed young Daniel as part of himself. This turn of events was part of what eventually led to Morpheus’s destruction, but also his rebirth… in the form of Daniel himself. Both his own person and a continuation of Morpheus’s own Endless life, this new Dream of the Endless may be considered a new Sandman in his own right or just an altered incarnation of the original, depending on your perspective. The vagary is quite intentional.
9. Larry Wilton -- finally, we have the Sandman created for Stan Lee’s “Just Imagine…” series, where the legendary creator had a hand in redesigning practically every significant character in the DC Universe to form an interconnected alternate Earth. This incarnation of Sandman was an astronaut who gained magic powers when he traveled through a cloud of fairy dust orbiting the planet. Today, Larry Wilton and the other “Just Imagine…” heroes are active in the DC multiverse’s “Earth 6.”
UNDER MY UMBRELLA, ELLA, ELLA, EH, EH, EH
“Most folks have seen various types of umbrella functions from The Penguin. The ‘personal copter’ seems to be integrated into a few. But, he certainly has had weapon umbrellas that: can shoot bullets, have a bayonet out the tip, a flamethrower, and a gas release mechanism. Are those weapon umbrellas single purpose? I don’t recall ever seeing a gun & flamethrower used in the same umbrella, for example.
So from a ‘weapons’ standpoint, is there any canonical source for multi-purpose weapon umbrellas or the weapons single use umbrellas?”
It’s true, The Penguin does like to keep a wide array of umbrellas handy with their own unique functions. This is especially true in the most popular depictions of him in popular culture, such as the ‘60s Batman TV series or the film Batman Returns.
However, that’s not to say that each bumbershoot in his artillery has only one offensive use. In his very first appearance back in 1941’s Detective Comics #58, Penguin’s original trick umbrella is shown to be capable of spraying bullets, acid, knockout gas, and even has a secret compartment which allows him to store rolled-up stolen paintings inside of it. Then, in Detective Comics #67, The Penguin uses an umbrella upgraded further still with a sword tip, sneezing powder, and a compartment containing trained birds. The narration here declares Penguin’s umbrella to be “a source of countless surprises” -- indicating that each of these functions are indeed embedded within the same umbrella. 1944’s Batman #21 first identifies Penguin as a “man of a thousand umbrellas,” indicating a diversity in his collection. But that wouldn’t be the last time Penguin was shown using a Swiss army parasol. For Penguin’s debut in Batman: The Animated Series, “I’ve Got Batman in my Basement,” Mr. Cobblepot is equipped with an umbrella stocked with daggers, rotor blades, and multiple varieties of gas, and acts as an air glider to boot. Variety is the spice of life, but sometimes you just need to pack light.
What a week! We’ve covered gods, cyborgs, Sandmen, and umbrellas. Who knows what mysteries await to be uncovered in next week’s column? The answer depends on you. Remember to stop by the DC Universe community in order to submit your inquiries. All you need to do is ASK… THE QUESTION.