Superhero Academy 101: Imps, Thunderbolts, and the 5th Dimension
Gods Among Us
I've been itching to write this article for a while now.
Imagine, if you will, an entire reality where magic is not only the rule, but it's the expectation. Way in the backwaters of the DCU is the rarely spoken about Fifth Dimension (or 5th Dimension). It is a place where near-omnipotent beings sit and plan for 90 days at a time jibs, japes, and all kinds of mischief for characters in the DC Universe.
Seriously, these people can be incredibly annoying. Regardless of their intent, whether the being wants to help or annoy someone from our dimension, often, the outcome usually works out to a major headache.
Most often, when we talk about these beings, we refer to the Fifth Dimension as the planet, Zrfff. This planet is a place where magic and science are so advanced that they are practically indistinguishable from each other. Powers and might for the population are as plentiful as vowels are rare.
Let's begin this discussion by looking at...
We all know this guy. Every three months or so, this little derby-wearing son-of-a-bitch comes to our dimension with a mission to annoy Superman. Why? Well, that's a very complex answer. In some accounts, he does these pranks to prove he's smarter and better than Superman. In others, he does it because he's just simply bored.
Retcons. What can I say?
Prior to the 1985 mini-series "Crisis on Infinite Earths", this character was two characters - Mister Mxyzptlk and Mister Mxyztplk. The "p" and "t" make all the difference. The easy answer is the former was an annoying imp that annoyed Superman on Earth-1 and the latter was an annoying imp that annoyed Superman on Earth-2.
In any event, this imp, whose reality defying powers would come along to get a couple of laughs by annoying the living hell out of Superman. I will sum up by simply using the words, "antics", "hi-jinks", and "chaos" for our man of steel. Why? Simple. As powerful as Superman is with all his "bending steel in with his bare hands" and "changing the course of mighty rivers", he's still incredibly vulnerable to magic.
He's powerless against Mxyzptlk on a physical level. He needs to outwit him.
In his pre-crisis origin, a color-blind teenage Mxyzptlk tried to prank Superboy and convince him he'd seen Jor-El's ghost. He had revealed to Superboy that the one way to send him back to the Fifth Dimension was to get him to speak his name backwards. The moment Mxyzptlk says the word "kltpzyxm" the sound vibrations of his own voice activate a portal that returns him to Zrfff. Once he's there, he must wait ninety days before he can return to earth.
For the most part, Mister Mxyzptlk is a throwback to a time when comic books were a vehicle to make innocent stories for children in a less enlightened age. However, in one of the last breaths of the pre-crisis universe in what eventually became the Alan Moore graphic novel of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, Mxyzptlk takes off his mask. He explained to Superman that due to his immortal life he's had to find ways to alleviate his incredible boredom by spending thousands of years dedicated to a specific direction. In one age, he was saintly. In another age, he simply did nothing. In this age, he was a prankster. In the climax of this story, he decided he was going to try being evil. With that, he transformed into a more malevolent energy form and as he was going to kill Superman and Lois Lane, Superman aimed the Phantom Zone projector at him. In order to keep from going to the Phantom Zone, Mxyzptlk said his name backward as the Phantom Zone portal hit him. This tore him in half and (presumably) killed him.
Within the post-crisis reality, Mxyzptlk is a cartoonish amalgamation of both his Earth-1 and Earth-2 counterparts. His coming and going from Zrfff to Earth is dependent on the wager the imp makes with Superman. Sometimes it's getting him to say his name backward, other times it's something else. However, lately, the writers have fallen back on the name reversal vulnerability to get rid of Mxyzptlk.
What you really need to know about this guy is 1) he's annoying, 2) he's annoying, and 3) he's not evil, and lately, he's proven to be an unlikely ally to Superman when things get out of hand.
In the antimatter universe everyone has their opposite - only Mxyzptlk's isn't from the anti-matter universe, he's also from the fifth dimension. Where Mxyzptlk is viewed as a bit crazy, Mixyezpitellik is very reserved, kempt, and not clownish at all. Plus, he keeps more vowels in his name.
When we look at the antimatter universe and see Ultra-man (Superman's opposite), we see that he's genuinely terrified of Mixyezpitellik and works for him.
Somewhere in the deepest darkest corner of the Batcave we can still hear the echo of "All I wanted to do was help!"
Batman and Robin's biggest fan is the Fifth Dimensional mini god who just wants the most from his hero. You know what that must be like? It's like having an off-screen director who’s constantly reviewing your life and wants bigger explosives and more deadly deathtraps for you to get out of.
I must stress this. He's not evil. He's not even misguided. The best analogy I can come up with is a super-fan who really wants his bang for the buck when it comes to watching his favorite movies. Only the problem is that he can tweak the movie WHILE IT'S HAPPENING. The technical term for what Bat-Mite is, is a nuisance.
In Batman R.I.P. by Grant Morrison, Bat-Mite has appeared in post-crisis stories as a hallucination and guide, offering some kind of moral compass to Batman's "back-up" personality (Batman Zur-En-Arrh) - which given the proclivities of this Batman to torture and possibly kill people - would show that Bat-Mite wasn't too good at his job.
I know it's hard to envision someone who is as dark and brooding as Batman even remotely tolerating a presence like Bat-Mite in his midst, but the truth of the matter is that he was created during a more innocent time in the silver age of comics where such whacky-ness was commonplace. The biggest question I have is with the dark knight - which would answer many questions - is "Did Batman understand how powerful this imp was initially and only scolded his number one imp-y fan because he realized how intrinsically dangerous such a being could be OR was Batman just so badass that he just didn't care?" Given that Batman is a master of strategy and deductive reasoning, I would imagine the former rather than the latter.
Bat-Mite has also been seen with a complex origin that I'm sure will eventually be retconned. Much of it had to do with the events as they happened in the Emperor Joker event as some of the residual power the Joker had from Mxyzptlk which somehow incubated with the clown prince of crime to produce Bat-Mite. I am certain that saner minds will settle on a simpler origin story that he resides on Zrfff and is a magical imp, just like practically everyone else there.
Yz, the Thunderbolt
Okay, stay with me for this one.
Sometimes when you are born the seventh son of a seventh son, with the utterance of a magic word like "Cei-U", you can have your very own all-powerful genie. Well, not a genie, but he plays one on TV. This presence that looks like someone carved him out of electricity is a very specific type of being from the Fifth Dimension. He is Yz the magical thunderbolt from Zrfff and he's fifth dimensional royalty with his blue thunderbolt brother Lkz.
Originally, back in the 1940s, Yz was the son of a mixed marriage between a thunderbolt and a djinn. The couple named their magical lightning bolt "Shocko" and he lived among the djinns. Other stories say that Yz was from a thunderbolt dimension with life forms just like him. The latest story is that he's a prince from the Fifth Dimension (one of two royal brothers) and due to a mystic ritual performed by a cult of mystics bound Yz to the seventh son of a seventh son born at 7:AM, Johnny Thunder. Johnny Thunder was an average guy who probably would have never discovered his heritage had he not accidentally said "Say you" - which sounded phonetically like "Cei-U" - and summoned the Thunderbolt.
Now, here's the thing about the thunderbolt. It acts like a genie and will grant an unlimited amount of wishes to Johnny Thunder. There's only one real hitch. The wish request must be very specific. The thunderbolt will obey the letter of the wish and not the spirit of it. Whether this is a true limitation of the thunderbolt or something self-imposed through the bond he shares with Johnny is not known.
In modern times, Yz the thunderbolt merged with Johnny Thunder. Their amalgamated spirit now works with Jakeem Williams and are summoned whenever Jakeem clicks his magic pen and says, "So cool".
The thunderbolt, when guided properly, can accomplish practically anything the wish requestor wants. In that respect, it is nigh-omnipotent. The limits of this power are purely subject to the words and phrases used during the wish.
What we know is that Yz and Lkz were merged together to form a purple thunderbolt called Ylzkz.
Qwsp (and Quink and Quirk)
Why should Superman and Batman have all the headaches with fifth dimensional imps? Aquaman should have some fun, too.
That said, meet Qwsp another water sprite (imp) who grew bored with his omnipotence within the fifth dimensional world of Zrfff. So, he turned to the three-dimensional planet of Earth and posed as a water sprite. There he found new friends and allies, Aquaman and Aqualad. Qwsp was extremely helpful using his phenomenal cosmic power in repelling Fire Trolls and fighting off underwater conquerors.
Unfortunately, Qwsp did not come alone. Qwsp's twin brother Quink followed him and aligned himself with the bad guys.
It's a story where you need a figurative "Moriarty" to meet an imp "Holmes". Who thought you could use the "evil twin" meme with these mini gods? In addition to Quink's mischief, Qwsp had to deal with the water sprite Quirk (apparently from the fifth dimension as well). Quirk and Quink found a way to make Qwsp's powers quit quietly and pose quite a quandary and put him in prison (probably near a quarry). But as comic law would have things, Aquaman found a way to restore Qwsp's powers and find a quick way to quiet Quirk and Quink's quartet of bad guys.
The problem was that Qwsp eventually turned evil. While he did manage to pull some pranks on the sea king, when Aquaman got all grim and gritty after losing his hand, Qwsp thought it was time he had a personality make-over as well. He went ever-so-dark. When he went back to Zrfff he caused a civil war between Yz the thunderbolt (pink) and his brother Lkz a blue thunderbolt prince. When he started to cause further trouble on Earth, it took the Justice League to shut that silver haired bastard down.
He's facing the Zrfff's ultimate form of punishment now... whatever that is.
Ms. Gsptlsnz aka Nyxlygsptlz
There's someone for everyone and Mister Mxyzptlk's wife is Nyxlygsptlz and daughter of King Brpxz - who knew there was that much royalty in the 5th dimension?
As you'd expect, she has phenomenal cosmic power like practically everyone on Zrfff, but she prefers to look like a young vibrant human woman. In the fifth dimension she holds much political power as she's on the council of elders who helped punish Qwsp for causing civil war on Zrfff. On Earth, she was Clark Kent's landlady.
Another relation on earth is her nephew Ferlin Nyxly - who had given Superman a hard time when he acquired "The Devil's Harp" and stole most of Superman's powers as Pan.
Genro the Genie or Mister Genie
Well, if Superman, Batman, and Aquaman are going to have troublesome god-like imp pranksters from the fifth dimension, Wonder Woman should have someone as well. With Wonder Woman, she encountered this 5th dimensional genie when she was "Wonder Tot".
The one thing I have to say about this guy is that he's sadly inconsistent. All the imp pranksters and thunderbolts have cosmic powers with very few limits, but this guy... THIS GUY... loses his powers at the drop of a hat. His hat. If he loses his turban, he loses his powers.
This is weird because if you can alter reality, or your actual size, and teleport from out of nowhere, you should be able to get some glue and keep your turban on. No one has seen this guy since the Crisis. Maybe he lost his hat.
And now we go dark. Vyndktvx was the son of Queen Brpzx (What? Is everyone on Zrfff royalty?) Instead of going the way of most royalty, he was sent away to become a court magician. Which is weird on a planet full of actual magicians, he was sent off to do card tricks. The joke was that he got beat out for the position by Mxyzptlk.
This pissed Vyndktvx off. So much so that when he thought he saw Mxyzptlk's derby, he accidently killed the wrong man who was only wearing one that looked like it. What he did manage to do was get Mxyzptlk trapped in a glass coffin and got his wife Nyxlygsptz to go into hiding.
Through Mxyzptlk's relationship with Superman Vyndktvx decided he was going to kill Superman through a fiendish plan that involved hundreds of players and a ton of kryptonite as well as a dying red sun. Not that it mattered, the man of steel eventually beat him and sent his ass back to Zrfff where he's locked in a prison for all eternity.
Vyndktivx not only has the powers of omnipotence but he is a master of chrono-kinesis (time manipulation) - which makes him a dangerous opponent.
Having to type this article leaves me needing a necessary vowel movement. There were times I really thought the A, E, I, O, & U keys for most of the writers at DC were stolen and I found myself slowing down after each 5th dimensional name I typed. It was exhausting. It was also annoying.
That was when I realized what kind of geniuses I was dealing with. The writers were annoyed. That pain had to have been projected into each name they came up with. Names like Mxyzptlk and Mxyztplk (as well as Mixyezpitellik) are hard to write, read, and pronounce - and somewhere in some minute part of each reader there's a part of that person's mind that thinks "how the hell do I say that name?"
When we finally get to Bat-Mite, there's a sigh of relief.
We can say "Bat-Mite". It's a solid character name. Bat. Mite. It's simple and uncomplicated. Ironically, when we look at Bat-Mite, he's easy to figure out. He's an imp that wants to do the right thing. He's a fanboy. There's a part of him in every comic freak. That makes him a good guy.
With all things from the 5th dimension there's always two things: an element of annoyance and a sense of wonder with imagination. Bat-Mite, himself, came straight out and said that the 5th dimension is imagination. These beings embody creativity to become reality at a whim. The problem with all that is when they bring their specific brands of inspiration to planet Earth, chaos ensues. We in the third dimension of length, width, and depth must use a fourth dimension of time to bring imagination to reality. When we skip the fourth dimension of time and instantly bring about impossible things beyond our understanding, we get frightened.
We also must factor in the element of annoyance in our imp dealings. Let's take the thunderbolt, Yz. The difference between a thunderbolt and an imp appears to be the element of a wish requester. An imp is master-less. Therefore, anything the imp wishes to manifest through his imagination, comes to life in his exact specifications. He knows what he wants and creates it. A thunderbolt obeys the letter of the law of each wish maker. If he says, "make me a drink", POOF! He's a six-foot cup of water. Each wish must be made succinctly with the exactness of a surgeon. Having to think of each wish EXACTLY can be quite annoying. Anyone who has seen the original version of the movie Bedazzled with Dudley Moore and Peter Cook knows that anything that can go wrong with a bad wish will go wrong.
Wishing can be hard work.
Once again, let's look at Bat-Mite. He wants Batman to be awesome. How does that work? Bigger death traps, stronger villains, harder riddles, bigger bombs are all on the horizon for Batman to deal with. If Batman fails to rise to each challenge, he's dead. It's more than just an annoyance; it's a huge pain in the ass. And remember, Bat-Mite is on his side.
Even when we look at Qwsp, who starts his existing in the DCU as a playful water sprite with Aquaman, he later turns dark when Aquaman is going through his own dark night of the soul dealing with the loss of his hand (and probably the loss of his son at the hands of Black Manta). When Qwsp sees him after so much time in the fifth dimension, seeing Batman as a borderline asshole lowers the bar of acceptable behavior for his playful impishness from pranks to dangerous god-imp.
The biggest question we need to ask of our fifth dimensional impish overlords is "why?" Why do they feel the need to leave their dimension of cartoonish whacky-ness to come to Earth and watch us primitive mortal simpletons deal with their pranks? We just can't understand it.
On a similar vein, Terry Pratchett voiced such concerns with his character, the anthropomorphic personification of Death. Death was fascinated with humanity because in all the multiverse no other species could come up with a concept as unique as boredom. And apparently, that's the problem with the imps on Zrfff. In Alan Moore's semi-canonical story of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, the ultimate version is a very angry and frustrated Mxyzptlk and when he decides to become evil Superman is forced to kill the immortal godling.
All to avoid boredom.
The good news is there is hope for the future of impkind's boredom problem.
What we discover by the next non-canonical story with All-Star Superman combined with the One Million storyline is that Zrfff and the imps become part of Superman Prime's matrix. Superman Prime (our Superman, Kal-El) finds himself confined within Earth's yellow sun through the 853rd century. In doing this, he gains fifth-dimensional powers himself as part of his matrix. Thus, it puts Superman into the immortal spectrum of gods. In this respect, he's managed to do two things: 1) reform the imps into doing positive things and 2) avoid being annoying.
What we should also ask is what kind of mind grows bored with phenomenal cosmic power? Imps like Bat-Mite and Mxyzptlk in World's Funnest routinely destroy and rebuilt the universe and return it to the condition to where they left it. To echo Douglas Adams, these things happen all the time, but no one notices. Not to put too serious a spin on this, beings like this are both creators and destroyers and the ultimate alphas and omegas to our universe. I would hate to see how all this plays out on a religious cult angle with Mxyzptlk worshipers gathering like zealots and donning orange derbies awaiting the next Kltpzyxm to occur.
Who could blame them?
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© 2019 Christopher Peruzzi