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 strange, granular, or obscure -- 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. As always, I remain your vigilant detective through the comic book cosmos to discover the answers you crave. Let’s see what’s been haunting your nights this week, and which quandaries we might finally put to bed.
OOH, HEAVEN IS A PLACE ON EARTH-1
“So what exactly is the canonical afterlife like in the DCU. Obviously there’s Tartarus and Elysium as seen in various Wonder Woman tales throughout the years. Here, Hades is the overlord of all fallen souls, both good and bad. Yet Zauriel is a fallen angel from Heaven, and while Spectre is supposed to basically be the right hand of God himself. How do these afterlives (as well as others seen throughout the DC mythos) work side by side?”
You folks do like the metaphysical questions, don’t you? Well, all right then. You wanna get dogmatic? Come on! Let’s get dogmatic!
I’ll begin with a question. What, may I ask, is the fundamental difference between the DC Universe, and the universe we ourselves live in? It’s not the superheroes, or the magic, or even the malleable continuity: it’s the fact that all of it is made up. A collaborative work formed by the imaginations of generations of writers, artists, editors, and hundreds of others sung and unsung who create this rich shared fiction we all enjoy. If you didn’t get it from the very core principles of Green Lantern, then take it from me: in the DC Universe, there is no more powerful force than imagination.
I’m not just speaking theoretically. The imagination and shared beliefs of the residents of the DC Universe themselves are what forms its very nature. It’s an idea which has been visited by some of the most legendary creators in DC history. Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, and Scott Snyder have all written about how the powers of thought and belief shape the DC universe itself. In what may be a commentary on the history of religion itself, in the DC Universe it is not gods and the realms they inhabit which create men: it is men who create the gods.
Though many have touched upon it, the most clear understanding of how the realms of the gods work and the afterlives we receive comes from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. In the DC Universe, the power of belief is so strong that it retroactively shapes the history of the universe itself. Every pantheon of gods who exists in the DCU only does so because some civilization of humans devised them, believed in them, and serviced them until they became so real that the universe itself allowed for their existence. In The Sandman: Season of Mists, many of these gods from an expansive variety of traditions are seen to coexist, each claiming their own piece of epistemological real estate within the afterlife.
So what is the “true” afterlife? What tradition does it follow? The secret of the DC Universe is- and here’s the central tenet of Grant Morrison’s work, and Snyder’s after him- it’s ALL true. Every single idea, every tradition. Especially the contradictory ones. What happens to you after you die, in the DC Universe at least, is entirely dependent on what the person dying believes. In Wonder Woman, we get a Greek tradition of the afterlife, because that comic is largely told from Diana’s own perspective. But a more traditionally Christian version of Heaven and Hell appear to characters who hold those beliefs. In that way, maybe the real difference between the DC Universe and our own is this: in a world of fiction formed entirely by the traditions, beliefs, and imaginations of those continuously creating and recreating it every day… every one of us gets to be correct. I can’t imagine anything more comforting than that.
VAMP OF APPROVAL
“As a purveyor of the gothic and paranormal, there has been a desire within me to enjoy vampires within the DC universe. Thus, I ask you how many major appearances of vampires have there been in DC Comics?”
Children of the night, what music they make! This is usually when I ask exactly what “major” means, but let’s dispense with that and get right into subjectivity. Allow me to present this brief history of the most significant cases of vampirism in the history of the DC Universe. These are not ALL the vampire stories ever told by DC, but it should be enough of an offering to sate even the thirstiest of blood-seekers.
1935: The Vampire Master
DC’s very first vampire story dates back to their very first year of publication. Doctor Occult, by all accounts DC’s oldest character still in regular use, found his first enemy in “The Vampire Master” in their debut issue of New Fun Comics #6. Their battle would spill over into the earliest issues of New Fun’s successor, More Fun Comics.
1939: Batman Versus the Vampire
One of Batman’s earliest enemies, too, was a vampire of sorts, known as The Monk -- first appearing in Detective Comics #31-32. This story was adapted into the Batman and the Mad Monk limited series in 2006.
1975: Beowulf vs. Dracula
Dracula himself made his first appearance as a recurring enemy of Beowulf in the short-lived eponymous 1970s series. When you’re going public domain, you might as well go big.
1976: Batman: Heart of a Vampire
In Detective Comics #455, Bruce and Alfred break down on a trip past a spooky old manor, and encounter its undead resident. A classic.
1978: The Vampire of Steel
Superman, Batman and Phantom Stranger team up against aquatic vampires in World’s Finest Comics #249.
1980: I… Vampire!
Enter Andrew Bennett, DC’s greatest vampire, in the “I… Vampire!” serial collected in ‘80s issues of House of Mystery.
Batman and the Outsiders introduces Looker, a metahuman member of the team who soon becomes a vampire.
1985: Swamp Thing: Still Waters
The very first team-up adventure between Swamp Thing and John Constantine in Swamp Thing #38-39 places them on a course to contend with a clan of mer-vampires.
One of the most well-known “Elseworlds” stories, producing numerous sequels and spinoffs, makes Batman into a literal vampire.
1996: Scream Queen
Showcase ‘96 #11 features the debut of “Scare Tactics,” an all monster rock band. The band’s lead singer, Scream Queen, is herself a vampire.
1999: The Night Tribes
In 1999, WildStorm continuity introduced the concept of the “Night Tribes” -- warring factions of werewolves, vampires, and demons. They remained a presence within the WildStorm universe for the next decade, and were usually considered The Authority’s problem.
2002: Superman vs. Dracula
In Superman #180, Count Dracula tries to bite Superman. Because Superman is packed with solar energy, Dracula pops like a balloon.
2008: Mandrakk the Dark Monitor
In Final Crisis: Superman Beyond, Grant Morrison introduced a new cosmic threat: Mandrakk, the vampiric Monitor who fed off The Bleed itself -- the cosmic ichor which flows between worlds in the universe. Mandrakk returned as the central antagonist of The Unexpected.
2010: Terror in the Third Dimension!
No actual vampires in this one, but a fun oneshot where Supergirl and Batgirl (Stephanie Brown) team up to fight a whole mess of Draculas.
2011: I, Vampire
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SUPERSON
Big Joe asks:
“When was the first time Superman’s child saved someone?”
Gee whiz, Big Joe. I really wish you gave me more specifics here than “Superman’s child.” Now, by the inscrutable rules which dictate this column, I’ve got to account for ALL of Superman’s children.
For the sake of simplicity, and because I have 4 other questions to answer this week, let’s dismiss the kids that Superman’s had in various “Elseworlds” and “Imaginary Stories,” and focus on the kids Superman’s had in some version of canon or another: Conner Kent, Christopher Kent, Jonathan Lane Kent, and Jonathan Samuel Kent. Yes, there are two Jons -- we’ll get into it.
Conner Kent, or “Kon-El,” is the cloned child of Superman made from a combination of Superman and a human’s DNA (who, years later in Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans, we learn was in fact Lex Luthor). Conner makes his debut to the world in 1993’s Adventures of Superman #501, where he saves a blonde jogger from getting run down by a taxi cab.
Christopher Kent, or Lor-Zod, the biological son of Ursa and General Zod, was adopted by Clark and Lois late in Pre-Flashpoint continuity. Eventually, he even becomes the Kandorian Nightwing. But his first rescue was in 2007’s Superman #668, helping Superman rescue cars from a collapsing bridge in Rawlings, Virgina. Currently, after Flashpoint erased his time as the son of Superman and a hero of Earth and Krypton, Lor-Zod lives with his original parents on New Krypton.
After Flashpoint, Superboy’s origin story was revised for The New 52. This new lab-grown clone Superboy was not the product of Superman and Luthor, but the clone of Jonathan Lane Kent -- the son of Lois and Superman from a possible future, captured and brainwashed by the villain Harvest to destroy all metahumans. After the death of this clone of Jonathan Lane Kent, the original Jon Lane Kent appeared to take over his role as Superboy, only to die himself later in The New 52. If it sounds confusing, well… I don’t know what to tell you. Jon Lane Kent’s first rescue was in 2014’s Superboy #28, where he liberated some other young metahumans under Harvest’s capture.
Jon Lane Kent was the son of Superman and Lois from a potential future, but Jonathan Samuel Kent is their son from the current canonical DC timeline. Originally born the biological son of the Pre-Flashpoint Superman and Lois during the “Convergence” event, the “Superman Reborn” arc consolidated the histories of Pre-Flashpoint and Post-Flashpoint Superman so that Jon Kent had always been Superman’s son. The first person young Jon saves is actually his own mother, taking out a group of Intergang members pursuing them in 2015’s Superman: Lois & Clark #2.
“I know Batman and Mr. Miracle have shared adventures together in the past (including an animated piece in Batman: The Brave and the Bold). But, like Superman v Flash, have they ever had a definitive face-off? That is, who’s the best escape artist? My money’s on the New God.
Part two, if you will, references those escape talents. If, as it is often claimed, he is the “world’s greatest escape artist," (or even if he’s just #2), why has the Dark Knight never created escape proof prisons (even by his standards) at Blackgate and Arkham? Granted DC’s clever writers would still find ways to get these nefarious felons out when needed for a story. But at least we’d sleep better knowing that Batman had tried his best.”
One of the unspoken rules of the DC Universe is that whenever you put a hero good at many things against a hero that’s only good at one thing at THAT thing, the specialist prevails. Otherwise, it kind of invalidates their existence. What’s the point of The Flash if Superman can be just as fast?
While Batman and Mister Miracle have teamed up on a number of occasions, it’s difficult to say what the results would be of a “face-off.” How would one determine that? Place the two heroes in identical traps, and see who escapes faster? It’s not like a fight, or a foot race -- it really all depends on the trap. After all, no two are ever alike. No number of exhibitions could ever conclusively prove which of the two was truly the better escape artist. At any rate, no such exhibition has ever occurred. Unlike Superman and The Flash, and apart from such sunny depictions as the otherwise Dark Knight makes in the aforementioned cartoon series, Batman typically isn’t one for public appearances.
I won’t leave you empty-handed, though. While this face-off may have never occurred, nor may it ever, there is an answer. One of the hallmarks of the ‘00s Superman/Batman series is how the narration gives us insight into the World’s Finest’s truest, innermost thoughts. In Superman/Batman #11, Batman deems Mister Miracle to be the world’s greatest escape artist -- himself included.
As for your second question about Arkham security, that’s precisely the topic of 2013’s Batman Annual #2. Give it a read!
AGLET'S NOT TALK ABOUT IT
“What’s the most ‘out there’ theory that The Question has ever proposed?”
This question tells me a lot about you -- particularly that your main point of reference when it comes to The Question is his appearances on Justice League Unlimited. I don’t blame you. That’s where I first got to know him myself. “Who is this guy unflinchingly standing up to Superman and Luthor alike, piecing together global conspiracies, and what ain’t got no dang face?” I asked. It was that question which led me down the hole to explore all of his appearances through the comics, forever placing old Vic Sage in my heart as my favorite comic book character.
But if JLU is your main source for The Question, there’s something you need to know: that whole conspiracy theory gag wasn’t really part of his character until Dwayne McDuffie wrote it in for the show. It was his own affectionate parody of Rorschach, the conspiracy-chasing vigilante of Watchmen, who himself was based by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons on Steve Ditko’s Question.
Thanks to the influence of Justice League Unlimited, McDuffie’s characterization and Jeffrey Combs’ vocal performance of the character has gone on to inform his precious few comic book appearances going forward -- but he never quite reaches the nuttery of girl scouts and magic bullets that’s on display in the animated series. This is all to say that the most “out there” theory that The Question has ever proposed is probably the one you’re thinking of. You know, the aglet thing.
Be that as it may, THIS Question remains ever ready to absorb the most “out-there” theories you can provide, and put them to the test. All you need do is stop by my place in the community and dare to ASK… THE QUESTION.