Archive | January, 2018

In honor of Mr. Terrific

8 Jan

mortWhen I first began reading comics, in the early 1990s, Wizard was the number one fanzine.  Without the internet, it was, I thought, the best resource for comic book culture and news that was available.  As an avowed DC fan, however, it was very skewed against my overall tastes.  Still, though, as I read, several articles were always entertaining to me.  One of my favorite monthly features was the “mort of the month,” embarrassingly bad comic book creators from the distant past.  One character I saw in those early days of my fandom was the rather goofy looking character above: Terry Sloane, Mr. Terrific.

Wizard pointed out just how pathetic of a character he was.  He was an incredibly intelligent and athletic sort, akin to a poor man’s Batman.  The costume was an embarrassment and if you needed any proof to his utter pathetic nature, his shirt was emblazoned with the motto “Fair Play,” where any self-respecting hero would have an S or a giant bat.  As a twelve year old comics reader, I could imagine him beating up little kids who were cheating at Monopoly or drop kicking some guy who had twelve items in the ten items or less line at the grocery store.  When I finally saw him in some reprints of classic JLA/JSA crossovers from the sixties, my opinion was reinforced as all the heroes acted the same and talked the same.  The only cool thing about him was that he was killed by Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash (granted he was possessed at the time).

All of this changed though when DC finally decided to bring the JSA back after Zero Hour.  Although the series was set to be in the modern day, James Robinson, lead writer, led off with one of those great mini-events DC was publishing in the later half of the 1990s.  This event was a “classic” JSA story set in the waning days of World War II.  Like the classic JSA tales of yesteryear, there was a chapter where the team discovered the problem, a chapter at the end where they teamed up to settle the problem, and then many chapters where one or two characters would work towards solving small problems connected to the larger tale.  I was very excited to read each of these issues, and though I expected my favorite to be the Green Lantern/Johnny Quick team-up, I was surprised to find my favorite was (and still is), the Flash and Mr. Terrific team-up.

In reality, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.  The Flash and Mr. Terrific team-up was penned by Mark Waid, at the height of his power as a comic book scribe.  He had an amazing ability to make even the mortiest of characters suddenly into fully fleshed out characters that everyone should read.  And he made Terry Sloane one of my favorite characters ever, even if I only have read a hand full of his stories.

Throughout the story, while Jay was dealing with the major threat of the book (a zombified Nazi who absorbed kinetic energy, mainly bombs in the book, and redirected it elsewhere), Terry Sloane attempted to aid German poor people who were trapped in Dresden, while the Allies were bombing the city.  There was a scene were he provided food to the starving and another scene where he helped settle children in an orphanage.  By the end of the book, though, Mr. Terrific realizes that he and the Flash had been lied to: Dresden was not some secret Nazi stronghold, it was just a German city filled with women and children, like most other cities.  He had Flash run them back to Allied command where he attacked the commander of the bombing.  He couldn’t understand how the “good guys” could intentionally be killing innocent women and children.

That is the moment that the character came alive to me.  Terrific left the building and was followed out by Jay, who finally understood Terry, just as I did.  Waid had Jay think “It was a side to Terry I thought I’d never seen…..His perfection always leads him into the same mistake.  He expects everyone else to live up to the same high standards of fairness he imposes on himself – and when they don’t – it eats him alive.”  It was the perfect problem for a character who was in many ways a mesh of Superman and Batman.  He was the physically perfect and genius human of Batman, combined with the honest do-good nature of Superman.  But here, we readers finally saw, a character flaw.  He expected everyone to live up to the insanely high level of morals that he had.  And real people couldn’t live up to that.  Twenty years later, I still believe it is the perfect hook for a series on a character who time has forgotten.

Terry got another great moment in the finale of the series, when he destroyed the evil mastermind’s global killing weapon, in a scene reminescent of Luke Skywalker destroying the Death Star.  Geoff Johns, another great author, gave Terry some amazing moments in the JSA series later, as characters traveled through time.  But largely, the original Mr. Terrific has been replaced by Michael Holt, who is also an amazing character.  Still, if you haven’t read Waid’s National Comics 1, I cannot recommend it highly enough.  It proves the adage that there are really no B characters.  Every character can be amazing, given the right author.