DCAU #134: Tools of the Trade

IN THIS ONE... Intergang gets some help from Apokolips. The Special Crimes Unit, from Superman.

CREDITS: Written by Mark Evanier (a great friend of Jack Kirby's and his chief archivist, he also created Scrappy Doo, scripted Groo the Wanderer and wrote the 80s iteration of the Blackhawks for DC); directed by Curt Geda.

REVIEW: Introducing the Fourth World into the series is, I can't hide it, pretty damn exciting. And they've done it as a love letter to Jack Kirby, which is even greater, even going so far as to get Kirby protégé and friend Mark Evanier to write the episode. Not only are Fourth World characters introduced to toy with Intergang just like in Kirby's Jimmy Olsen comics (alas, Jimmy never becomes a rock'em-sock'em Kirby action hero, nor ever meets Don Rickles in superhero drag), but the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit is also introduced to the series, including one Dan "Terrible" Turpin, who used to be Brooklyn of Simon & Kirby's Boy Commandos, and who's drawn as... Jack Kirby himself, bushy eyebrows and all. It's a wonderful homage. And yeah, perhaps Kanto isn't the most memorable of New Gods, but the peek at Darkseid at the end, on Apokolips played as Bruno Mannheim's personal hell, that just made me squeeeeeeeeeee!

At its core, Tools of the Trade is about an arms race. Intergang can't get anything done because of Superman, until Apokolips sells them hi-tech weapons. And just as Metropolis' criminals get a boost from aliens, so does the police department via the Man of Steel. So is Turpin a little right in rejecting Superman's help? Would this game of one-upmanship have started without him as Metropolis' guardian? Well, the S.C.U is already dealing with "special crimes", so I'd say Luthor started it with his injection of advanced tech in the city's habitat. However it all started, the S.C.U. and Superman need each other now, and just as various humans (Lois, Jimmy) have saved Superman in past episodes, it's Turpin's turn, which dispels the latter's fear of being replaced. He's a prideful man, and Superman gives him his due. One of the best things about the episode is the relationship between rash Turpin and level-headed Maggie Sawyer; when their frustrations come to a head and Dan leaves, you actually feel like something is lost (of course, Maggie takes the sting out of it later when she says he throws just such a tantrum on a regular basis).

The action is pretty cool. The fight with the tank. The train derailment. The "armature" and how a guy gets his fingers broken using it. However, my favorite bit is Lois fiercely punching an elevator button to keep Clark Kent from getting her story, and him just taking a step backward into an open shaft and getting there well ahead (as Superman). The episode also features some of the best lighting yet sees on this series, with characters allowed to be in shadow in the normally sun-drenched Metropolis, including Superman intimidating his foes with glowing red eyes. But please, PLEASE, stop putting Clark Kent at the wheel of a car. I find it upsetting.

IN THE COMICS: The Fourth World actually debuted in Superman comics, specifically Jimmy Olsen #133 (1970), which also premiered Intergang, a super-mob that was getting tech from Apokolips and orders from Darkseid (or DeSaad posing as Darkseid in post-Crisis continuity). Kanto was never their contact, but as Darkseid's personal assassin (first appearance in Mister Miracle #7, 1972), he makes a fair weapons dealer. Darkseid himself first appeared in Jimmy Olsen #134, while Apokolips waited for New Gods #1 (1971). We'll see a lot more of the Fourth World before we're done with the DCAU! As for the Special Crimes Unit, it is a much more recent development, appearing along with Maggie Sawyer in Superman #4 (1987), although Dan Turpin was created by Kirby as one of the few humans who knew about the secret war waged on Earth by the New Gods, back in New Gods #5. It has been revealed that he is a grown-up version of Brooklyn from the Boy Commandos, so his actual first appearance is really Detective Comics #64 (1942). One final note: Superman's "red eyes" is cool and all, but it's become a wretched cliché in the comics, which seem intent on making him look dangerous, out of control and inhuman.

SOUNDS LIKE: For Maggie Sawyer, they got Joanna Cassidy (Zhora in Blade Runner). For Dan Turpin, Joseph Bologna (Mr. Start in Ice Age: The Meltdown). Apokolips-side, Kanto is voiced by Michael York of Logan's Run fame, while Darkseid is played by Michael Ironside (Scanners, Top Gun, Total Recall, Starship Troopers, and many, many others).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Some great introductions in what is essentially a big ol' tribute to the King of Comics himself.


LiamKav said...

Oddly enough, i can cope with seeing Clark driving, but react very negatively to seeing The Doctor behind the wheel of any car that isn't Bessie.

snell said...

"But please, PLEASE, stop putting Clark Kent at the wheel of a car. I find it upsetting."

Man, you're going to hate the upcoming 5-episode arc where Clark goes undercover as a Uber driver...

Anonymous said...

Reign of the Uber-Man!

This is where the series takes a turn for the worse, and I think makes the comic book universe worse too. We start seeing more and more Apokolips in the cartoon, and I find Apokolips cannot coexist with the superhero universe without one or the other getting broken. But at least the cartoon deals with Apokolips by having the New Gods intercede and prevent Apokolips from leveling the earth, so Apokolips is kept in check. Sadly, the comics will start following the cartoon's lead and position Darkseid and Apokolips as the "big bads" of the DC Universe, but as of the nu52 the New Gods don't have the power to intercede.

LiamKav said...

I get what Anon means. For some reason, Darkseid homage/rip-off Thanos seems to work better as a Big Bad for his universe than Darkseid does in the comics. I don't know nearly enough about the New Gods to try and figure out why, though.

(Saying that, I don't have any problems with him in the cartoon. Or at least, I don't think I did. I can't remember much of him as my STAS knowledge is a lot less than my BTAS knowledge. I guess we'll find out...)

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Sorry, Siskoid- Clark Kent in a car is here to stay. You will particularly hate the Bizarro episode, methinks. (To be fair, driving a car is a lot better way to maintain his secret identity than flying everywhere and hoping no one notices).

"Oddly enough, i can cope with seeing Clark driving, but react very negatively to seeing The Doctor behind the wheel of any car that isn't Bessie." - LiamKav

Right on, brother- preach it! :-) In my (unpublished) blog, I repeatedly refer to "The Whomobile, that hussy..." It is literally the subject of a short story I am writing at the moment for Big Finish's Short Trips contest. Casual disregard for Bessie is... offensive, somehow.

"(Saying that, I don't have any problems with him in the cartoon. Or at least, I don't think I did. I can't remember much of him as my STAS knowledge is a lot less than my BTAS knowledge. I guess we'll find out...)" - LiamKav

I definitely do, though not for the same reason as Anon, precisely. I just find him one of the least interesting of Superman's extensive, untapped (in most forms of media) rogue's gallery. To me, he's kind of one-note. After their first fight, and "Here, I am god," you've literally said all there was to say about him.

I just tend to get bugged that he gets all the spotlight moments. STAS major events? Often Darkseid. Supergirl's introduction? Darkseid. STAS finale? Darkseid. Showdown with Brainiac at last, on Justice League? Has to bring in Darkseid. JLU finale? Resurrectic a DEAD Darkseid to make him the final boss of that series, too! Smallville finale? Darkseid. Live action Justice League movie? Darkseid. Big reveal for the (unintentional) finale of Young Justice? Darkseid.

It just seems like there are so many more worthy characters of getting the spotlight, and nowhere is he more disproportionately represented than the DCAU. Seriously, the final villain of TWO series is the same guy, even though he's already dead in one of them? It's like making every live-action movie Luthor or Zod; I just want to see some more variety. To me, someone like Mongul can have just as high a power level (and his own killer planet of evil); he just doesn't have as good a PR agent. So Darkseid isn't the only option for 'ultimate big bad'- but he's the only one they ever *use.* (Just my two cents.)

Siskoid said...

I fully realize that growing up in a rural area means Clark would have gotten his license as soon as possible, so I'm going to stop beating that dead horse.

Anonymous said...

"I get what Anon means. For some reason, Darkseid homage/rip-off Thanos seems to work better as a Big Bad for his universe than Darkseid does in the comics. I don't know nearly enough about the New Gods to try and figure out why, though."

I can tell you exactly why! Several reasons:

1) A Darkseid fight is usually about "I am Darkseid and now I am here to destroy you" and heroes have to punch him until he falls down. Thanos stories are rarely that straightforward. In his first arc he was trying to gain the Cosmic Cube (at that time a singular item) to develop infinite power. In his next arc he was trying to defeat The Magus, a possible future version of Adam Warlock who would have been able to destroy him if that timeline were to lock in. Thanos's next adventure after that was just a simple attempted invasion of earth with a massive fleet. Then Thanos was dead for quite some time until the Infinity Quest when he was trying to collect all six Infinity Gems. Then the Infinity Gauntlet when he was god and everyone was trying to stop him, and at the end of that he was trying to stop the person who took his gauntlet. Then he was a farmer. Then the Magus showed up again in Infinity War and Thanos had to team up with heroes to stop him. Then it was Thanos and heroes versus the very religious evil Adam Warlock in the Infinity Crusade. I could keep going but that's a pretty good start.

tl/dr - Thanos changes it up. It's rarely a matter of him just showing up and being all omnipotent, which unfortunately is the only way Darkseid is used these days.

2) Thanos can have a variety of motivations that potentially make him ally himself with the heroes, sort of like Dr. Doom. Darkseid doesn't have that versatility, or at least he is written that way.

3) One of Thanos' motivations is love, as in he is literally in love with Death, who thinks he's a a stalker creep. At some level, we can identify with Thanos as possessing a weakness we all do. Darkseid's got no motivations other than conquest, destruction, and a math formula.

4) Thanos schemes, sometimes to the degree that Loki does. Like with his second arc where he was teaming up with Adam Warlock to stop the evil Magus, poor Adam didn't know that he was being suckered into never becoming the guy who could eventually stop Thanos. (He managed to anyway, spoilers.) But Darkseid ... ? At least as written these days, he doesn't scheme. He just shows up and there is a lot of punching.

5) Thanos has been developed, character-wise, such that one of his plot points is that he tends to defeat himself out of a deep-seated perception that he is unworthy of power. That means, among other things, you don't have to worry about finding someone with big enough fists to punch Thanos a lot, it's perfectly acceptable to engineer a flaw in one of his schemes and let him trip over that, and it feels right provided it was a subtle flaw. You can't do that with Darkseid, all you can do is punch him until he falls down.

I can't claim to be much of a fan of Thanos, but at least he's more versatile than Darkseid, or at least he's used more creatively than Darkseid. Which is a shame because Darkseid COULD be done better. Consider the other year's GLC / New Gods fight, where the New Gods turned into genocidal a-holes for no real reason. That would have been a great time to reveal that Darkseid had found a way to afflict the New Gods with despair and panic -- got them to give in to their dark sides, if you will. But that's not the way the story went, which is a shame.

Andrew said...

But he has to be seen driving! How else are they going to convince the kiddies to want the Conversion Coupe transforming car with exclusive Clark Kent figure?

As for Thanos, another part of the reason he works better than Darkseid as the Big Bad is that he's one of several Big Bads that Marvel's creators can choose from. There's also Mephisto, the Celestials, Grandmaster (or Collector, or insert your preferred Elder here), Kang, Galactus, Loki, Apocalypse, Doctor Doom, and even Red Skull with a Cosmic Cube. Over at DC the villains powerful enough to steer a crossover event are a bit fewer and farther between, and even threats like the Dominators, Nekron or the Anti-Monitor feel like they belong in the same sentence as Mr. Mxyzptlk or Lord Manga Khan.

Siskoid said...

Darkseid became DC's big bad more than a decade earlier actually, when he was more or less simultaneously featuring heavily in Super Friends Galactic Guardians, getting his own Super Powers action figure, starring in the Super Powers mini-series, and finally interacting with the mainstream DCU, so to speak, in the well-remembered Great Darkness Saga.

When the universe rebooted, the Fourth World was more fully integrated into the DCU's affaires in Legends. And since then, we've had New Gods in the Justice League, etc. It's only in the past 10 years that the brand's really been diluted, with the many deaths of the New Gods, and writers riffing on Kirby without really understanding what he brought to the table in the first place. So now we have entirely too much Darkseid, and it feels like he's played out, but only I think because he's been BADLY used.

I still prefer him, as an established presence, to big bads you'd never heard of before like Neron, the Anti-Monitor, etc.

It's possible you don't like Darkseid and his quest for the Anti-Life Equation, but me? It's Thanos and the Infinity Stones I hold in the same disdain.

Anonymous said...

Like I said, I'm no great fan of Thanos, but at least they change him up. And I'd be much happier with Darkseid if they did better things with him.

I was just looking at a Chris Sims article on comicsalliance.com about an early Darkseid appearance, where he had set up an amusement park on earth whose exhibits were people being tortured, with barely-convincing laughter and music to conceal the very real suffering going on. The twist is that children would perceive the suffering in its full horror, while adults would allow themselves to be deceived by the barely-convincing laughter and music, and thus help teach their children to ignore the suffering of others. Now THAT is some scary stuff, and if Darkseid were doing that sort of thing today, my estimation of him would shoot up immensely.

I remember the Super Powers cartoon, and how Darkseid was not even a match for Superman; in the opening sequence they even showed Darkseid's eye beams bouncing harmlessly off Superman's chest and Darkseid and his cronies running away in fear. And The Great Darkness Saga ... well, what happens in the 30th century stays in the 30th century.


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