Chris Peruzzi is a comic book superhero historian who is passionate about how today's comic book heroes are the new mythology for America.
Who's Really Obscure?
We all know the popular big brains of the DC Universe.
I can name three without even thinking: Lex Luthor, Brainiac, and Dr. Sivana. Being smart and having wonderful mental powers in the DC Universe pays huge dividends. If you’re smart and you’re evil—and you haven’t worked on the New York Stock Exchange—chances are you’ll have a promising career as a supervillain in the DC Universe.
The problem that I have as someone who’s looking for an obscure big-brained character is that almost all of them are well known. Well, at least they are to me. What I do when I try to find these characters is I eliminate all of the obvious ones that everyone has heard of—like Lex Luthor, Brainiac, the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, and all the others that even the most casual of laypeople is familiar with. If you could remember that character from a campy Batman show, then he’s pretty well known. I also try to eliminate all of the characters that don’t exist in comic book continuity. Characters that were invented for celebrities during the 1960’s Batman show won’t be on this page. You won’t be seeing Egghead, a la Vincent Price.
Then I tightened my criteria.
I remembered the big superhero resurgence in the 1990s. Batman: The Animated Series actually introduced some characters that up until that time were pretty obscure. Characters like Clayface, Killer Croc, and Two Face were only known by comic book fans up until that point. I will say that when I saw the 1990 Michael Keaton Batman movie with Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent, I geeked out for a moment. Now, with the advent of Justice League Unlimited, Young Justice, The Teen Titans, and Superman’s animated show, more characters are getting airtime, and more people are recognizing them. So, characters like Psimon, Mammoth, Sinestro, Bizarro, and Soloman Grundy were taken away from the obscure list.
I had to rely on my own sense of being a comic fan on people that I found obscure. And in all modesty, I can say that if I probably hadn’t heard of that character, Mr. “Casual Comic Fan” hasn’t. That’s why I preface most of these articles as “probably never heard of.”
On that note, let’s begin with this guy.
Perhaps one of the best transformations of a lame character to an interesting one was with The Thinker. While the character was originally a guy named Clifford DeVoe with a machine on his head called “a thinking cap” (which made him really smart and gave him limited telekinesis and mind control), he usually got his ass handed to him on a regular basis by either the Golden Age Flash (Jay Garrick) or the Justice Society.
DeVoe looked like a banker with a jury-rigged hairdryer on his head. The typical defeat of the thinker was for the Flash to rewire the gadget at superspeed to give DeVoe a bit of a mental shutdown.
The technology of the original thinking cap was implemented into the headquarters of the Justice Society when they did their relaunch. Mister Terrific, in using this unpredictable technology, hadn’t realized that it had grown sentient, turning the JSA headquarters into a living weapon—siding with the new Injustice Society’s villains. The big question was whether the sentience was its own or the ghost of DeVoe’s personality. No one knows for sure. The Thinker lowered the temperature of the building down to absolute zero in an attempt to kill the superteam.
Apparently, Mister Terrific got all the bugs out of the thinking technology, and it’s artificial intelligence now serves the JSA (albeit reluctantly).
The Thinker first appeared in All-Flash #12 (1943). The AI version of the Thinker first appeared in JSA #9 (2000). He is best known for his appearance in the immortal Gardner Fox landmark story of Flash of Two Worlds (The Flash #123 – a near-mint copy sold at auction for $83,000).
Brainwave and Brainwave Jr.
Meet Henry King and Henry King Jr. a.k.a. Brainwave and Brainwave Jr., respectively. Henry King, Sr. was born very much like Marvel’s Professor X—he was born in the 1910s with vast psionic powers specializing in the ability to create three-dimensional image illusions with his mind. His appearance is very much what you’d expect: a man with a large bulbous head who wears thick glasses. Being highly intelligent, he was able to get his college degree and medical school degree in psychiatry at an early age. He decided that he was going to dedicate himself to a life of crime by using his innate mental abilities to pull off crimes. He encountered the Justice Society and eventually joined its counter group, The Injustice Society.
Somewhere along the line, Brainwave married Merry, Girl of a Thousand Gimmicks, and they had a son. Unlike his father, though, Henry King, Jr. decided to be a hero instead of a villain. Brainwave, Jr. inherited many of his father’s powers, although his ability was not as strong.
When Brainwave Senior passed away, his son inherited all of his father’s powers—in addition to his own. Dropping the “Jr.” from “Brainwave Jr.,” he went mad for a brief time until he learned how to control his massive mental powers.
His allegiances currently are unknown.
Brainwave Sr. first appeared in All-Star Comics # 15 (1943) and Brainwave Jr. first appeared in All-Star Squadron # 24 (1983)
Himon of the New Gods
There are comic book fans, and then there are Jack Kirby fans.
Jack Kirby fans are truly a unique breed because they’ve dedicated themselves to following this old school, mad, amazing genius that not only drew his comic books but wrote truly fantastic concepts for comic book readers of all ages. He was the force behind the Fantastic Four, the Silver Surfer, the New Gods, and the Forever People – as well as countless other mainstays in both the Marvel and DC Universes. So prolific were his characters and concepts that they still have an impact on storytellers today.
But I digress.
Along with Highfather and Darkseid, Kirby created a supporting cast of really unique characters. Among which he created, Himon—an inventive genius who spent years undercover on Apokolips, and led a rebel cell against Darkseid. He taught others to invent and use devices like the matter manipulators and small screens that translated thoughts to images. When Scott Free (Highfather’s son) escaped Granny Goodness’s orphanage, Himon aided him, eventually mentoring and teaching him to be the great escape artist (Miracle Man) that he is today. His big invention was the mother box (a portable sentient computer) that all of the new gods from New Genesis use.
Himon’s role in New Genesis is to be a teacher, inventor, and general mystic.
Himon first appeared in Mr.Miracle Vol.1 #9 (1972)
Mento of Doom Patrol
Fans of the ill-fated Doom Patrol know that Mento is not a candy—and he’s certainly not “the fresh maker.”
Mento is millionaire Steve Dayton. Dayton invented a helmet similar to the Thinker’s thinking cap and used it to expand his mental abilities. It’s like Professor Xavier of the X-Men wearing a portable Cerebro helmet. The big problem is that Dayton really likes his helmet… I mean he really, REALLY, likes his helmet. He’s addicted to it.
When Mento is lucid, he’s a force for good. He’s helped many of the Teen Titans with some of the mental addictions and disorders they’ve suffered. He’s also needed curing from others in the superhero community because overuse of the helmet causes paranoia and dementia.
Mento first appeared in Doom Patrol #91 (1964)
Some people like to visit the Caribbean. Some people like to go to France.
However, if you should find yourself outside the time stream in the city of Chronopolis, you will be greeted by its hyper-intelligent android, Mordecai. He works for Countess Fiorella Della Ravenna—a time-traveling noble.
As something of a greeter-butler to this city, you would need someone who is somewhat immune to the ravages of time and also have a brain that’s able to calculate the necessary mathematics that comes with quantum mechanics and time flow. Mordecai has the typical attributes of being an android—superhuman strength and intelligence without the rigmarole of aging. As you always need not only someone to welcome newcomers to a place that exists outside of the time-space continuum, you also need someone who’s smart enough to operate the time machines and defend the city against unwanted intruders.
While appearing to die many times in some stories, Mordecai’s ally, Walker Gabriel (Chronos II) has always been able to manipulate the time stream to restore the android to his proper place.
Mordecai first appeared in Chronos #1 (1998)
Finding obscure big brains within the DC Universe was not easy. Two of the characters may be well known. While I was doing research on Anarky, I found that he was a popular character in his own circles and that due to the complexity of his moral compass; he has a special place in the DCU.
Fans of the JSA will not only know the characters of Brainwave and Brainwave, Jr., but also the computer intelligence known as The Thinker. The catch is that you need to be a fan of the JSA. While I could have easily put in the Ultrahumanite, I felt that he was a little bit too well known.
As a matter of fact, here are the characters I immediately thought of but passed because I felt that they had too much press already through television and DVD sales.
- The Ultrahumanite: A body-hopping mad scientist entity that has switched hosts and has been in not only the pages of the JSA but also a major enemy of Superman.
- The Brain: This primary enemy of Doom Patrol has found his presence in not only Young Justice but also The Brave and the Bold.
- Gorilla Grodd: This JLA enemy is popular not only with the Flash, but has made appearances on many DVD movies, cartoons, and comic book titles. That also goes for his good counterpart Solivar—who died during the Crisis of Infinite Earths back in 1985.
- Monsieur Mullah: Intelligent ape and poor man’s Grodd.
- Psimon: This enemy of the Teen Titans has made some major appearances on Young Justice.
- T.O. Morrow: The inventor of The Red Tornado has made major appearances on Young Justice.
- Professor Ivo: The inventor of Amazo. He actually almost made it on my list of five. It was a toss-up. I figured that if I had not seen all of the episodes of Young Justice yet that it would be a sure bet, he’d be on the show. After all, you almost can’t have T.O. Morrow on the show without having Ivo.
- Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana: Archenemy of Captain Marvel. He’s not only had attention in the 80’s version of the Captain Marvel cartoon but has also appeared almost every story that Captain Marvel is part of. He is not obscure at all.
- Mr. Mind: The World’s Wickedest Worm. He’s the same thing with Dr. Sivana. This worm and worm-like spawn are now used to dominate minds. He’s very much like the Ceti Alpha Five brain parasite from Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn. After the retcon, he was made into a major villain. Not obscure at all.
So, it wasn’t an easy task. Big brains within the DC Universe are plentiful and well known.
I even considered Anarky—a child prodigy super genius who took it upon himself to steal huge amounts of money from corporate CEOs to spread amongst the world populace. He was the entire occupy movement all by himself. Too many people know him from Batman comics.
In many senses, this is a good thing. The DCU has made intellectualism sexy again. While we do have many hero steroid cases that fight for the side of the angels, we have an almost equal amount of heroic geniuses who can topple the steroid case villains and knock them down to size. The other message that DC sends out is that there are an abnormal amount of criminal geniuses within its universe and that if the hero is big enough and strong enough, he can beat the brains out of any of them.
In the end, because this is fiction, it really all depends on who the good guy is and how disposable each character is to the DCU.
© 2013 Christopher Peruzzi