Monday, November 29, 2010

The Great Calculator-Weather Wizard Rivalry Saga

I'm a (DC) fangirl who always tends to swoon for the smart ones. Which means I swoon for villains as DC has an uncanny way of killing or marginalizing their super-smart Man of Science/Knowledge heroes (Ted Kord, Ray Palmer, etc..). In particular, I adore Noah "The Calculator" Kuttler and Edward "The Riddler" Nigma, and (more the highly-intelligent passionate converse to the Man of Knowledge) Mark "Weather Wizard" Mardon.

In due time I will post some other ramblings to elaborate (i.e. the tension between Atom and doppelganger Calculator as narrative engine in Identity Crisis; the many faces of Calculator; Joker's Asylum II: The Riddler as Super Grover Worthy!; the world of the Flash as a perfect representation of Hermes; etc..), but for now let me get some previously-created Imaginary Puissance-worthy material up for your musing pleasure.

To attempt to shorten a long story, I always have to have a male muse. In elementary school from 1st grade on, I picked a boy in my class and that would be that. In my teens through early 20s, it would be a fictional character of my creation amalgamated from movie character and teen idols. In my mid to late 20s, comics characters came to the fore as I delved into the medium. And as I'll probably mention time and again, give me a new creative medium and within a month I'll be creating something in it (whether I stick with it long enough to develop my skills and make anything Good is a My Little Pony of a different color). Inexorably, this led to Calculator fanfiction, and given his nature as a hub for cross-universe going-ons this, innocently, pulled Weather Wizard into the story.

Of course, that I was so new to the DCU meant I needed to research the characters - and who doesn't love treasure-hunting for backissues and connecting the dots to gain a sense of a character's history? By winter 2007/2008 I had collected most Calculator backissues, was working on a script from his perspective, and was deciding that Weather Wizard would be my next backissue target during convention season. Working on Noah's backstory, there were some curious oubliettes in his origin story which suggested ties to, perhaps even an audition for, the Rogues, the ties later alluded to in Identity Crisis. And Weather Wizard, as a nature-based lower-class womanizing Romantic, seemed a perfect foil. To wit:

Identity Crisis #6 (DC), Writer: Brad Meltzer, Pencils: Rags Morales, Inks: Michael Bair
[He and Noah had been old rivals from way back, Noah having a bit of contempt because Mark essentially stole the weather wand, and got into the Rogues not too long before Noah built his calc-suit and was rejected. Apparently Captain Boomerang's word only counted for so much.

Mardon's side of it was that Noah was too little blue collar, too much dork, and his suit had too many abilities going on that overlapped with what the rest of the Rogues could do. One of the reasons he had stayed away from the Rogues to begin with was because he could do heat like Heat Wave and ice like Captain Cold, and he didn't want to step on any toes.] From a piece of fic I wrote not long before the original version of this post.
As my research developed, the coincidences that reinforced this perception of rivalry only added up, until one fateful night browsing a Weather Wizard chronology index, lightning struck and I discovered an issue I already had, and not in my Flash collection.

That was when I knew I had happened upon an untold secret history of the DCU, evident if you knew where to look and an ever-evolving saga from pre-COIE through to the modern day and beyond. And a chance messaging conversation with Geoff Johns of all people spurred me to write it down.***

So let me put together a factual chronology of issues here, along with some elaborations and observations, and you can decide the merits as you deem fit.

(all dates referenced are the magazines' cover dates)


The Flash v.1 #110 (December 1959/January 1960): Mark "Weather Wizard" Mardon's first appearance, trailing the introductions of Captain Cold, Dr. Alchemy, Mirror Master, Gorilla Grodd, and Pied Piper. Mardon's origin is notable for the introduction of a (dead) older brother, Clyde, a recluse astrophysicist genius who invented the Weather Wand. In recent canon, it's become ambiguous whether Mark found Clyde dead or murdered him.

The Flash v.1 #231 (February 1975): Weather Wizard's first appearance with the Rogues, proper, at the first-ever Flash's Rogues Convention. The Rogues, as a group, had already been going strong since Flash #155 (September 1965).

Secret Society of Super-Villains #1 (May/June 1976): This title, btw, saw Captains Cold and Boomerang, Mirror Master, and Trickster pass through its pages during its short run.

The start of our story

Detective Comics #463, back-up, (September 1976): The first appearance of The Calculator.

Writer: Bob Rozakis, Pencils: Mike Grell, Inks: Terry Austin

Calculator's first story arc would continue through the back-up stories of the next 4 issues of Detective Comics, culminating in a final full issue in #468. The back-up stories of Detective at the time featured a rotating crew of second string heroes and sleuths - though usually in separate storylines! Brad Meltzer would come back to this particular story arc later when writing Identity Crisis: the stringer heroes taken on by Calculator would become IDC's "League within the League" while IDC itself introduced Calculator's revamp as an underworld data broker (as well as finally giving him a name!).

Here in this first back-up, the Calculator fights Ray Palmer, the Atom, for the life of the inventor who, at that very moment, is debuting an earthquake predictor (and ends up swallowed by a crevice created by a quake of all things). As that red caption box in the above panel indicates, Calculator steals things when they're most valuable -- what could be more valuable at that moment than the life of the inventor of such a life-saving machine, when only he understands his creation? Plus, he has a nifty suit from which he can project almost anything. See?

Ok, so a fair number of villains can do flame-throwing. But can they also play in the majors? (hold that baseball thought for a moment) And there's one last thing..

This mysterious "Special Button" he pushes every time an opponent beats him.

More on this as it develops.

Detective Comics #464 (October 1976) back-up:

Writer: Bob Rozakis, Pencils: Mike Grell, Inks: Terry Austin

Geeky and a biker! This time it's against Black Canary for the fate of Founder's Day in Star City, raising the temperature by transmuting Dinah's Canary Cry into heat-creating vibrations. Meteorological abilities, huh? That one's a bit rarer.. Though come to think of it, that first job had to do with earthquakes, another climate-related phenomenon, right?

Detective Comics #465 (November 1976) back-up:

Writer: Bob Rozakis, Pencils: Ernie Chua, Inks: Terry Austin

Stealing Elongated Man's fame at a comics convention! (he made everyone uncontrollably stretchy!) My guess for this one? This early attack shown here was to gather spectroscopic/perspiration evidence of metabolized Gingold in order to reverse engineer a particular substrate that would enable him to produce a gaseous form which could then be unleashed on the crowd of unwitting convention-goers. No-Prize-worthy, right? Not much here, save, once again, he pushes the Special Button™ after being defeated (and getting more misshapen than Flex Armstrong on an all-night bender, at that). Moving along..

Detective Comics #466 (December 1976) back-up:

Writer: Bob Rozakis, Pencils: Marshall Rogers, Inks: Terry Austin
The beginning of the Marshall Rogers era on Detective Comics! As to the story, the scan above spells it out plainly enough. Now here's the kink to it all after 3 issues of set-up. Elongated Man's told Green Arrow about his previous encounter with Calculator and then accompanies him to the ballpark where GA's to throw out the first pitch of the final game of the World Series. Once the Calculator strikes, though, it's a whole 'nother ballgame:

Now how on earth is that possible? You'd think the Calculator deals strictly in science and tech, but an effect like that...without Calc having to even interact with EM's like...magic. What's goin' on here?

But now to an aside. Was this baseball month at DC? Judging by the cover date, this probably came out right in the middle of Fall Classic season. And look at what else was happening in the DCU this month, for instance:

Writer: Bob Rozakis, Pencils: Dick Dillin, Inks: Frank McLaughlin

DC Super-Stars #10 (December 1976):

Go here and mouse over the little scorecard at the bottom for links to read the full details for each inning. Now..with the way my argument's developing, for an All-Star Villain lineup, whodya think was representing the Rogues? I'll give you a hint:


The Calculator did not feature in the story. You may cease holding that baseball thought from issue #463.

Secret Society of Super-Villains #5 (February 1977) Odd note, Bob Rozakis takes over writing duties as of this issue.

Detective Comics #467 (February 1977) back-up:

Writer: Bob Rozakis, Pencils: Marshall Rogers, Inks: Terry Austin

So there's the plot right there. And how exactly did Calc know there'd be fog at that precise time? And that the nuclear plant was close to meltdown? And, what a numbskull, was he deliberately trying to create radioactive lake-effect snow (this story takes places in Hawkman's adoptive hometown of Midway City, MI) and mess up weather patterns for the entire eastern half of the U.S.?

Go go, Calculator-chopper! Go go Calculator-tornado! A computer can do that? A 1970's era computer? (well, ok, if S.T.A.R. Labs was up and running at the time, anything's possible) Though no matter, ultimately it was yet another bid to be defeated by a hero and push that Special Button™.

Detective Comics #468 (April 1977) full story:

Now here is where it all comes together.

Writer: Bob Rozakis, Pencils: Marshall Rogers, Inks: Terry Austin

*points at that second Editor's Note in the second panel*

First of all, for you DC newbs who are wondering about Abra Kadabra, let me spare you the trip to Wikipedia, here's the first line of his bio from "The madchild Abhararakadhararbarakh (also known as Citizen Abra) was born in the 64th century, an era in which science is so advanced it is indistinguishable from magic (some claim it is a mix between science and real magic)."

The more you know.

Now, aside from Kadabra, so many questions get begged here.

1) How did Calculator know Central City was going to be missing the Flash at that time?

2) What were the Rogues doing at that point?

3) How'd he wind up getting enough attention to register with the League just then? Was there any media coverage?

4) And what did happen to Ralph (EM)?

Suffice it to say, having battled Batman earlier in the issue, he wound up defeating the entire low-powered half of the Justice League, just standing there without even pushing a button, in the battle that ensues (there's a lot of scan material I could add in, but this is already long enough). That's one hell of a Special Button™. Just push once after a superhero defeats you and, presto change-o, you're immune to them ever after, even in their civilian guises (as Ray Palmer learned the hard way).

But now, this is a Comics Code book. And 'Tec is a Bat-book. There's no way Batman gets punked in his own book and the villain gets away scot-free (not to be confused with Mister Miracle). A planted news article catches Calc's eye…

He's clearly quite ravenous to get super speed-punched, isn't he? But then those last few panels… Now, Calc's gotta be a smart guy. And having been longtime friends with Captain Boomerang.. Surely he knows what a gi-hugic NO-NO he just committed, right? ICING a police car in CENTRAL CITY? Heck, actually he says as much, "..carefully calculated to cover my tracks!" Who could the CCPD instinctively blame? Though come to think of it again, he calls it a blizzard, not just ice. Dear lord: earthquakes, impossibly high temps, baseball vindictiveness, fog, radioactive lake-effect snow, tornadoes, and now blizzards?! Do I detect a theme here? (of course you have to subtract the trampoline he threw at Batman among other things, but...)

Of course this is all just picking at details. We don't even see another villain in the course of this storyline. Batman lays a trap at S.T.A.R. Labs and punks Calc right back to the slammer (like it lasted more than a week - in the course of the story we even find out how he escapes jail every time: he calculates a runaway bus crashing into the patrol car carrying him, he calculates a test rocket flying into his cell so he can blow his way out, etc..)

Calc doesn't go near Central City again pre-COIE, though this tale is only just starting..

Writer: Bob Rozakis, Pencils: Alex Saviuk, Inks: Vince Colletta

Action Comics #522-524

Ah, the Hurricane Harness.

Designed to suck the fury out of hurricanes and then convert it into electricity!

Is this just the world of the Atom talking, or is he deliberately stealing anti-nature inventions?

I seriously recommend picking up this arc. Professor Hyatt, left, is able to avoid truth detection long enough for Calculator to be captured. Naturally, Calc makes it rain Space Invaders in the courtroom to facilitate his escape!

We leap over some post-Crisis appearances to arrive at our next significant point.

Justice League: America #43 (October 1990):

Writers: Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, Pencils: Adam Hughes, Inks: Jose Marzan, Jr.

Bwa ha ha! This is just a Calc-cameo, but then there were a lot of cameos in this issue. Orange killer robots, indeed. And by this point, he had been reduced to fighting Hero Hotline of all people (the collective "Who?" I'm hearing right now is exactly my point). Then there's this panel on the very next page…

I didn't recognize it at first (hell, when I got this issue, I was so early into fandom I'd be lucky to recognize heroes, let alone small-time villains). And since he's in the background, the colorist probably made a good decision not to color him in. That collar and belt look familiar? I can only imagine how the poor guy must've felt at this point. Out of the game for so long ever since Barry Allen died, even awhile since that one episode with Blue Devil.. And to be hanging around with this bunch of rejects after the glory days you've had? With nary even a fellow Rogue to share a cold one with? There's gotta be some anger in there needing to be released. And, the sort of thing below probably isn't all that uncommon…

After this issue, we don't see the Calculator again for a very, very long time.

Unless you count this one image from Batman: Gotham City Secret Files and Origins #1 (April 2000):

Writer: Brian K. Vaughn, Marcos Martin, Inks: Mark Pennington

JSA #30 (January 2002):

Writer: Geoff Johns, Pencils: Stephen Sadowski, Inks: Chris Alamy and Dave Meikis
(Technically, the above three images are from #28, but same story) It was a premier night at Roulette's House as virtually everyone in supervillaindom showed up to watch the JSA destroy themselves in gladiator games. A wide assortment of Rogues alone showed up as we see here. And then, there were even more, these following two images taken from back-to-back pages, even!

Writer: Geoff Johns, Pencils: Stephen Sadowski, Inks: Keith Champagne
Yeppers. For the first time in 10 years, the Calculator in-the-flesh has resurfaced! (and with a speaking part! What an honor!) Think of the social networking that must go on at an event like that, the stories that get told about times past, old relationships resurfacing, comparing notes on almost being eaten by Apokoliptian hellhounds...

...on and on and on… Gah, that'd be a great story to see from the villains' perspectives. But yeah, think about the networking here that leads to…

The Flash, v.2, #183 (April 2002):

Writer: Geoff Johns, Pencils: Scott Kolins, Inks: Doug Hazelwood
What else? The Network.

First of all, just take in that gorgeous two-page spread of Scott Kolins'. All that detail and the expressions.. I'm sad to have played with the colors here. Have you hit that mental tipping point yet?

Writer: Gail Simone, Pencils: Dale Eaglesham,
Inks: Art Thibert with Drew Geraci

Beyond Calc's revamp in Identity Crisis, Noah and Mark each also had opportunity to shine in the Villains United miniseries and special in the buildup to Infinite Crisis. While they didn't interact (little wonder), Weather Wizard was picked to lead an assualt team against and later guard the Secret Six during the minseries, while Calculator was part of the Society's core group of 6 leading villains.

During the Villain United: Infinite Crisis Special #1 (June 2006), they did happen to share a page, though, left.

Writer: Marc Andreyko, Pencils: Jesus Saiz, Inks: Jimmy Palmiotti

Also during that road to Inifinite Crisis period, Rogue War was going on over in Flash, while in Manhunter there was Identity Crisis aftermath.

Have an interesting pic from Manhunter #6 (March 2005).

This is just the sort of background detail you'd expect for the connected universe of the DCU at the time. But I can't help but wonder at Mark's lack of a mask in this case -- and in comparison to fellow Rogues Trickster II and Captain Cold on the same monitor. It's deeply curious.

That's all the canon chronology, to-date. However, I reserve the right to make updates as new issues are released.

As for non-canon material, get a load of this screencap, from a Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode, Night of the Huntress! (original airdate, May 8th 2009, Cartoon Network). (I should note, the original versions of this piece, on MySpace and LiveJournal, had already been published at least a year by this point)

As if the image and the acknowledgement that it was Weather Wizard weren't enough, Calc mentions that Flash will be out of Central City for a few days. o_O

'Tec #468, much? Calculator, Weather Wizard, Kadabra conspiracy?

Adam Beechen, writer of this episode, the next time I find you at a convention, know I have a very specific question for you (and will be utterly THRILLED if the answer is positive).

*** Me (the previous July): Congrats on Sinestro Corps War Special!
GJ (6 months later): Thanks!
Me: I can't wait for Rogues' Revenge! Give us a Weather Wizard Rogue Profile! (when the mini was 6 instead of 3 issues - and, hey, take a good look at issue #3)
GJ: Oh, he'll feature all right. Any other requests? :)
Me: ... ... !!!!! *goes to blog*

[Substance published earlier on MySpace, 01/28/2008, and LiveJournal with Manhunter and Batman: The Brave and the Bold updates, 04/02/2008. Current edition revised to minimize manic excitability and to add Action Comics #522-#524 arc. Thank goodness I stopped taking those caffeinated vitamins..]