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mygif

Surprise! It was me running the slides!

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mygif

I don’t know if I’d say Silver Age comics didn’t have a fanbase. However, I think it’s safe to say they were selling to a much broader base of people, so if some fans weren’t happy, it was easier to ignore them, whether their unhappiness was grounded in good reasons or not.

That’s not to say fans get to determine how a book is written by complaining today, but if you’re selling 500k books a month in 1963 and get 500 complaints about it, versus selling 50K books in 2010 and getting 1000 complaints about it…it’s harder to ignore.

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mygif

Interesting rationale there. I don’t entirely disagree, although I think it remains to be seen just how much Batman Inc. really makes Batman unrecognizable to someone who dropped off five years ago. Bruce Wayne is still Batman after all. It’s just now there will be…more Batmen(Batmans?) around, presumably. We’ll see eventually, I guess.

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mygif

Yeah, I’m with Jase on this. Batman Inc doesn’t seem to be a massive paradigm shift so much as a viable next step.You have a Batman who works alone and lighter one who teams up with Robin and actually works in a group situation.

Readers can have their cake *and* eat it.

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Where in the hell are you expecting to find a casual comics fan wandering into a comic shop and browsing mainstream titles? Are there any casual fans left who’d be able to find a comics shop to begin with, never mind dare to go inside and buy stuff? It’s pretty much hardcore pamphlet zombies now, innit? Your casual fans can buy trades of the stuff they remember at Barnes & Noble, and watch the movies on DVD. Why the hell would they bother with trying to involve themselves with anything published in pamphlet form by DC or Marvel in the last 10 years? They’re gonna wait for the trades, browse them in a nice civilized bookstore, and then decide if they wanna get involved.

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ImperatorMJ said on November 14th, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Well-played MST3K reference!

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Given that Golden Age Flash and GL had been out of comics for roughly 10 years when they were revamped for the Silver Age, the 5 year rule can’t really apply to them.

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mygif

I think you’ve got a pretty good point, John. For anything to have a lasting appeal, the fans, the editors and the writers all have to accept it. It’s a bizarre sort of unconscious consensus. That’s what really sets continuity.

These days, it seems like it’s getting harder and harder to make things that pass that test. Completely new characters seem to have the most staying power. If they fit into the established structure of the setting, and if they appeal to a broad enough base, then they tend to stick around. See Harley Quinn, for the best example. See Bane and Cassandra Cain for a less successful example. Now, you might say to me “but they’re still around” and to that I would reply “so what?” Characters like them get sidelined and neglected, except in a few non mainline titles. Bane, for example, had Knightfall, but mostly since has appeared in thinks like Gotham Knights or Secret Six, as opposed to Batman proper.

Changes to the status quo, or trying to delete something, that’s what tends not to stick. If you kill a character off, or if you alter the basic relationships the setting is founded on, that stuff bounces back into shape pretty quick.

This actually combines with the thing about new characters. It’s easier to create a new character and less so to kill off a character. For almost every character, somewhere out there are some writers or fans who liked them, and will one day bring them back.

Very little stuff sticks. In the Batman comics, even huge events like No Man’s Land have been mostly forgotten, with only the odd reference here and there to remind us they ever happened.

How many major changes in post-Crisis DC have stuck around? Or even in Marvel. There’s minor stuff, like Batman’s belt getting darker and bulkier, as well as loosing the oval on his chest symbol, or stuff like Iron Man’s armor design changes in Extremis. Even Crisis-era changes doesn’t always last. Byrne’s “Lex Luthor as evil CEO” alteration has been challenged in recent years with a gradual shift back to the older “mad scientist” version of Lex.

Often, you can tick the big events that have shaped the continuity of a single setting on one hand. They’re like big rocks sticking out of river. They tend to remain static, and everything around them is fluid and transitory.

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In regards to what Brandon said, rolling back many of the changes instituted by ‘Crisis’ is some of the dumbest shit DC has done creatively.

What I find funny is that corrupt business Luthor has proven such a powerful depiction that it’s been constantly battling against efforts to swing the character fully back to mad scientist mode ever since the ‘Superman/Batman’ arc that ended his presidency. I mean, how many times has Luthor regained control of Lexcorp since then?

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@DCD: Soon I’ll be throwing up chicken, corn…onions…

@Joe Crow: It does happen. You can find yourself passing by a comics store and thinking, “Oh, wow! I haven’t read one of those in ages!” It happened to me, actually; had to give up comics for financial reasons in ’02, and got back in a few years later when I was in the neighborhood of my old store and decided to see what was going on in my favorite books.

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mygif

Funnily enough when Morrison pulled a similar stunt by having Charles Xavier ‘come out’, as a mutant and the deep pockets of the X-Men, he did something quite interesting.

He gave interviews to the broadsheets. I remember him pitching to the Guardian that he had taken the spandex heroes known as The X-Men and turned them into emergency crews, in recognition of the post 9/11 need for ‘ordinary heroes’.

This would be Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, which made quite a lot of money, but of course pissed off a vocal fanboy core for being too weird etc. Following his departure, most of what he did was rolled back.

Is it therefore not so much the case of a ‘five year rule’, as much as ‘the next writer’ rule? By your rationale this casual fan who dropped into a store two years ago would have thrown down the Batman comic in disgust. Damian Wayne? An offshoot from an Elseworld’s title twenty years ago?

What Batman Inc allows for is not one story abruptly altered that risks alienating readers – it creates a broad canvas of Batmen, multiple story styles. If David Finch wants to do his grimdark Bat he’s welcome too. There’s also Most Excellent Super Bat and Paul Cornell’s Knight for those who enjoy a bit of levity. It’s the best solution for everyone.

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mygif

So…what part exactly violates this arbitrary 5-year rule? I have to admit I just picked up Return of Bruce Wayne 1-6 at a Con this afternoon, so I might be in the dark here. But the extended Batfamily/Batman lead teams/Bat-affiliated characters have been around for a good deal longer than 5 years.

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mygif

Didn’t mean to get into the validity of Batman Inc per se, but…

The downsides of this are twofold. One, it assumes that Batman fans read for the costume and nothing more. If I pick up a Batman comic, and the person who’s Batman is someone I don’t know or care about, I’m less likely to be emotionally invested enough to want to spend money on the issue. Dick Grayson as Batman might not be the same as Bruce Wayne, but at least it’s a character I know and I can find myself interested in what happens when the “real” Batman comes back. Batman Inc doesn’t have that same kind of hook.

And second, it does kind of imply that being Batman is something that anyone with the right gadgets and training can do, which undersells their main character a bit. Yes, they did put Azrael into the Batsuit, but the whole point of that storyline was to show that he couldn’t hack it (and Bruce was never really “off-camera” during that storyline.) I’m not sure that a Batman Corps is quite the direction to go for a character that is distinguished from other men primarily by his drive, determination, and zeal to be extraordinary.

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mygif

But Batman as an ideal of optimum humanity works. An international group of vigilantes living by his code is something that could be rolled out. The Bat as a symbol.

No one else can be Superman, or Wonder Woman. Almost nobody can be Batman, but if you dedicate your life to his ideals you could become *like* him.

Think of it as Batman = Wagner’s Grendel.

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mygif

“The downsides of this are twofold. One, it assumes that Batman fans read for the costume and nothing more. If I pick up a Batman comic, and the person who’s Batman is someone I don’t know or care about, I’m less likely to be emotionally invested enough to want to spend money on the issue. Dick Grayson as Batman might not be the same as Bruce Wayne, but at least it’s a character I know and I can find myself interested in what happens when the “real” Batman comes back. Batman Inc doesn’t have that same kind of hook.”

But Batman Inc. still has Bruce Wayne as the main character. Your argument seems to more apply to the idea of a bunch of guys in Batman costumes running around WITHOUT a recognizable character like Bruce or Dick, which isn’t the case.

“And second, it does kind of imply that being Batman is something that anyone with the right gadgets and training can do, which undersells their main character a bit. Yes, they did put Azrael into the Batsuit, but the whole point of that storyline was to show that he couldn’t hack it (and Bruce was never really “off-camera” during that storyline.) I’m not sure that a Batman Corps is quite the direction to go for a character that is distinguished from other men primarily by his drive, determination, and zeal to be extraordinary.”

If people don’t respond to the idea of non-Bruce characters who wear the Bat-symbol and/or use similar methods, then why are Bat Family books so popular? It’s the most popular franchise in the DCU.

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mygif

First, there are no fans from five years ago who are going to suddenly appear and start picking up books at random. Not in any significant numbers.

Second, your rule would forbid basically any significant change to the characters. From Lois figuring out Superman’s identity, to Peter Parker making a deal with the devil to get out of his marriage (“I have to keep Aunt May around? Sigh. Fine, get it over with”).

I think the real question is simply whether the Batman audience is interested in this story idea.

People buy various Batman elseworlds, so there is some interest in variation at least out of continuity. This lets some of the less far-fetched elseworld ideas exist in continuity (“What if Batman was a foul-mouthed, drunken stereotype of an Irishman?”).

Stupider things have worked. It will likely depend on the execution, rather than the concept itself, and then get rolled back when someone decides to revamp Batman as a more Silver Age version.

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Walter Kovacs said on November 15th, 2010 at 5:17 am

Let’s see about Batman Inc:

We have Batman and Robin, in Gotham City, fighting crime. Seems pretty normal. The Robin is a bit different, but people have accepted different Robins at different types. Batman is chipper instead of brooding, but hey, people accepted Adam West didn’t they?

If you like your Batman light and a bit Campy, you have Dick. If you like your “Batman” as a jerk who is prepared for everything, you have Tim in Red Robin. If you need your Batman to be Bruce, he’s around too, likely hanging out with Superman in space fighting supervillains instead of just crazy guys in costumes.

Batman, as a character, is extremely schizo. He’s a gritty detective who carefully plans out his war on crime and drives people away as he puts all the burdens of the world on his shoulders. He’s also an acrobatic kick butt vigilante with a colorful sidekick, colorful villains and awesome toys and gadgets. He’s also a guy who hangs out with Superman and the rest of the Justice League fighting world threatening enemies in space and, despite being a human with no superpowers, fits in perfectly.

How do you reconcile all of that? Well, you make it so there are actually multiple Batmen running around. It just makes sense in the long run. He already has a “Bat-Family” of like minded vigilantes under his, pardon the pun, wing … why not just make it official.

It will come down to execution. The seperation of books seems to indicate they’ll probably, short of crossovers, keep Bruce and Dick seperate. Having two Batmen in the same book would be confusing. However, if you have one set of books following Bruce’s exploits, one set of books following Dick’s exploits, you have Superman/Batman with Bruce and Clark, and you have Batman and Robin with Dick and Damian, etc, etc, etc. Many Batman stories don’t require Bruce to be Batman … a story with Dick as Batman that doesn’t involve him getting out of the Batsuit … would just read as a more lighthearted Batman story for the casual reader.

And if it’s key that Bruce be involved, they can do that. And if it’s a story that benefits it being Dick (like involving the Titans), they have that option as well.

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mygif

I’m intrigued how several people have flatly stated “there are no people like that”. I mean, it’s so easy to disprove an absolute.

Even when I was buying a bunch of comics regularly, there were plenty I had read in the past that I wasn’t currently reading, but I’d dip into now and again. My main reason for not going further than a single issue on an old favourite had less to do with familiarity and far more to do with whether the story drew me in or was an incomprehensible mess that I knew I’d have to buy a bunch of other comics to make sense of.

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@Marionette: Well, the discussion is framed explicitly in terms of market forces. So it may not be that there is not ever a single person who ever stops collecting comics for 5 or 10 years and then walks into a comic book shop (cause I’ve done that myself), but if comics as an industry should base editorial decisions around this vanishingly small POTENTIAL market segment. If I’m reading the post correctly, that seems to be the point of John’s post.

Besides, that potential reader always has Wikipedia to figure out why spider-man isn’t married anymore, or why Cap has a metal arm and dark hair, or who the hell the Sentry was, any why Rogue is upset about it.

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Well, I think Mr. Seavey was just using that as an example. And it can be extended from “guy who wanders into comic book store randomly” to the people who go to a comic book store to pick up their regular issues/the trade they’ve been waiting for, and then browse a comic they used to read a few years ago to see what’s happening. I know I’ve done that before-I used to read a lot of X-men comics in the early 90s, dropped them before the decade was over, and then would occasionally look at them without buying them, as I was focused on other comics at the time.

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The 5 Year Rule doesn’t really concern people who will look at the material after the publisher retcons it away however. Personally I have zero interest in anything come from Batman at DC that isn’t written by Morrison or drawn by JH Williams and when they leave the BatCamp I probably will too.

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The problem with the “five year rule” concept is that it disallows any positive change in the universes, ever. There’s already complaint enough about murdering minority legacy characters to let the white guys back in, and this kind of thinking only makes it harder to introduce new blood and create a setup that doesn’t resemble a 1950s gentlemen’s club.

I was out of X-Men for a decade–most of the mid-90s, but I got drawn back by E is for Extinction (only to go out again somewhere around Milligan’s run/House of M) by the intriguing storyline and dialogue. At the time I was pretty disdainful of all things X because their stupid chased-by-sentinels status quo was stupid and if that was what the book had still been about, I would never have given it a chance.

So I think this ‘five year snapshot’ idea ignores audiences who were actively turned off by previous incarnations of books, particularly as they’ve morphed in the last few decades. With the internet, it’s very possible to look up a lot of intervening canon that may be used, and companies have gotten better about updating their websites with at least some of that info.

But as long as they keep murdering secondary characters to make Batman and Hal Jordan look more badass, I probably won’t be reading, now or in five years.

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I think John’s rule is backwards. The way you determine whether a change is a workable, valid alteration to a comic book status quo is whether it’s still there after five years. Dick retires as Robin? Stays in effect. Superman turns electric? Goes away. Make your own list.

Incidentally, this rule suggests that Hal Jordan and Barry Allen should have stayed dead. I consider that to be support for my thesis.

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Sean D. Martin said on November 15th, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Not unreasonable comments about how the Silver Age is different.

However.

IIRC some comics in the 40’s-50’s used to sell in much higher numbers than anything now. And there wasn’t the collector fan base that was following every issue every month. Some kid’s purchases of a, say, Superman comic would be sporadic. So it was even more important that the character not change radically.

Anyone know roughly what % of comics are sold these days to “fans/collectors” (e.g., thru direct market, to shops whose customers have pull lists, etc.) vs sold to “occasional” readers (pick up an issue occasionally at a newsstand if the cover grabs their eye)?

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Sean D. Martin said on November 15th, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Actually (given another few moments of thought) I imagine a much greater brake on significant change is the significantly larger movie-going public.

Far more people know the Hulk from TV and movies than comics. And if he suddenly shows up in the next film as red and smart (move bombs), or isn’t available in green on Underoos, it’s going to hurt the bottom line more than seeing subscriptions fall 20% because fans are pissed off.

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@ Brad Hanon

I don’t see how that negates Seavey’s rule, since it also deals with the lasting durability of new ideas.

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I have a Rule of Thumb that I’ve noticed myself – that is, a longterm fan’s expectations in a comic are colored by whatever happens in the first 10-20 years of publication.

If for instance Superman’s costume is largely blue tights with a red cape and an “S” symbol on the chest for that period of time, then whatever changes that are made to that costume should be MINOR, at best. If the change is too drastic, then fans will expect it to eventually change back. If Spider-Man starts out as a high schooler who then graduates and moves on to college, graduates and so forth, then fans will expect a continuing progression of his life. Any reversals, in his case, are not expected to last.

That’s why, when Wonder Woman’s costume was so fundamentally altered by JMS for this new run, I just found myself thinking, “eh…give it time, she’ll be back to her star-spangled briefs soon enough.”

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Maybe DC just wants to make a “[character] Corps” for all their headliner heroes. The male ones, at any rate.

Hell, the groundwork is laid for a Blue Beetle Corps.

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[…] then there’s no good guys or bad guys. Just two armies of vikings, fighting it out in Vallhalla till Ragnarok hits the publishing industry. Comments […]

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For those of you who feel that the Five-Year Rule rules out any kind of change, I did point out that it was proportionate, not absolute. So Superman’s marriage to Lois would be a tiny adjustment, but most fans know that they were an item and they can bridge the mental gap.

Likewise, if they read a Batman Inc. story where Bruce Wayne is prominently featured, but it also has him interacting with other Batmen, they can probably pick up the gist of things (although they still might not like it.) But if they pick up an issue where Bruce Wayne isn’t featured much (or at all), they might wind up with the impression that whoever that story’s Batman is, is actually the Permanent New Batman. That’s where I’d imagine them putting the issue back down again. :)

Spider-Man married to Mary Jane/single again (depending on your five-year snapshot)? Low degree of reader alienation. Spider-Man as Iron Man’s personal assistant, wearing his suit of Spider-Armor? Mid-range. Spider-Man as some guy named Ben Reilly with a completely different supporting cast? Bu-WHA!?!

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Snap Wilson said on November 15th, 2010 at 8:44 pm

I think it all depends on how strong the original concept was. Forget the Silver Age, look at the Claremont and Cockrum’s “All New, All Different” X-MEN, Frank Miller’s DAREDEVIL, Alan Moore’s SWAMP THING or Grant Morrison’s DOOM PATROL, just to name a few, where the reinventions came to define the character. Another example is the Giffen/DeMatteis JUSTICE LEAGUE, which didn’t wind up re-defining the JLA, but was undoubtedly more popular, relatively, than any of the iterations that preceded it. You might consider these exceptions that prove the rule.

Scipio at the Absorbascon has a theory about the surrounding elements of a character called the Dynastic Centerpiece Model (explained here: http://absorbascon.blogspot.com/2005/06/dynastic-centerpiece-model.html). He focuses on the archtypes of supporting cast members, but I think you can extend that to any number of recognizable elements. As he phrases it, “connectivity creates relevance.”

I agree wholeheartedly with this. By investing as much in the world surrounding the heroes as you do in the heroes themselves, you’re telling a larger story. And the more you remove them from those elements, the more disposable they become. It’s not that you can’t tell a good story about Spider-Man fighting crime on Mars or Thor busting heads in Harlem, but it puts them into situations where they’re less distinct and therefore less attention-worthy.

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mygif

“Likewise, if they read a Batman Inc. story where Bruce Wayne is prominently featured, but it also has him interacting with other Batmen, they can probably pick up the gist of things (although they still might not like it.) But if they pick up an issue where Bruce Wayne isn’t featured much (or at all), they might wind up with the impression that whoever that story’s Batman is, is actually the Permanent New Batman. That’s where I’d imagine them putting the issue back down again. :)”

But that’s not likely to happen. All four solicited issues have starred Bruce Wayne, and everything in interviews with the creators suggests that Bruce will remain the star.

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mygif

“The problem with the ‘five year rule’ concept is that it disallows any positive change in the universes, ever.”

Except for something like Utopia, which John specifically cited as a positive change that is completely compatible with the five-year rule.

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Actually, yes, let’s look at Claremont’s X-Men (which was actually Len Wein’s X-Men, but Claremont came to be identified with it.) The series at that point was all but dead; it had been reduced to a bi-monthly reprint book for the last several years when it was relaunched. Falls under the guideline of “no existing fanbase to care about the changes, can go ahead and build a new one.”

Frank Miller’s Daredevil? Still featured Matt Murdock as DD, still set in Hell’s Kitchen, still featured “blind lawyer becomes super-hero”, and even the villain cast was pretty much the same. It was a change in tone, sure, but eminently recognizable to any long-term fan of the series.

Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing…was Alan Moore. One of my other rules of comics is, “Sure, Alan Moore got away with it. With very few exceptions, you’re not Alan Moore.” :) (All kidding aside, this wasn’t as big of a change as it seemed. Still a horror comic, same basic supporting cast, same basic setting, just a radical change in tone and fewer of the “ooh, this time he’s got a chance to become human for reals!” stories.)

Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol…is out of continuity in favor of the classic Arnold Drake model. The Vertigo model, though it held up for a couple of years after Morrison left, was just too different from what fans were used to. Far from being an exception, it’s a perfect example.

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mygif

I dont see why Batman Inc is so different to the stuff that has come before it

Theres been a bunch of stories where Batman goes overseas to solve crimes
They created new characters for him to team up with plenty of times before.
And even though the classic rogues get a fair work out its far from uncommon for new rogues to get in the way of our caped crusader.
Theres also been a very long history of people working out who Batman is and coming after people close to him.

The only difference is now his overseas contacts are working explicitly for him.

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mygif

“And second, it does kind of imply that being Batman is something that anyone with the right gadgets and training can do, which undersells their main character a bit.”

Welcome to DC Comics. Where any cop who wants to put on a mask and bust punks without having to follow all the rules is roughly comparable to Daredevil in terms of gymnastics and martial arts skills, can do ridiculous high jumps at exactly the right time to keep from getting shot all day long and (perhaps most implausibly) sew a professional looking costume.

I got soured on Batman and other “street level” DC characters partly because it is that simple to become a superhero in the DC Universe. Heck, if you’re just related to some character they killed off that’s all it takes to have enough skill to potentially be Batman’s new sidekick.

Batman fans have been saying stuff for the last twenty years or so about how Batman is the brightest and best and hardly anybody is at his level. But that isn’t really backed up by actual DC comics. There are a bunch of characters who are at least comparable to Dick Grayson running around.

Mr. Terrific, for example, is really Dr. Terrific because he has multiple Ph.Ds in addition to being a former Olympic athlete with five black belts. Geoff Johns had him inventing all sorts of goofy gadgets and occasionally performing surgery on people. And by DC standards, he’s kind of mediocre.

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