With Tuesday’s release of The New Golden Age #1, 13 forgotten heroes are returned to the ever-growing DC comic book universe. There’s just one catch — not all of them have ever actually existed before, despite what the comic book claims, in a fun (and, in a couple of cases, particularly notable) meta-textual twist.
There’s a mystery at the heart of 'The New Golden Age,' the umbrella title given to Geoff Johns’ new DC titles — beyond this special opener issue, he’s writing a new Stargirl miniseries, as well as a new Justice Society of America ongoing title, both launching later this month. There’s someone seemingly dedicated to hunting Doctor Fate throughout time — and he may or may not be connected to a number of missing figures throughout DC history, including some familiar faces in unfamiliar guises… or vice versa.
Those new characters, who may or may not actually be new, depending on your take on DC continuity, are the subject of a particularly fun part of The New Golden Age #1: a series of fact files written and designed in the style of DC’s '80s encyclopedic series Who’s Who, introducing the characters to the audience for the first time… well, the first time for some of them at least. (The Golden Age Aquaman and Thaddeus Brown, Jack Kirby’s original Mister Miracle are amongst their number, both of whom pre-dated Johns’ career in comics by decade.)
That said, fans who’ve been reading DC comics for a long time might find a couple of things… strange… about the Who’s Who pages. For example, Mister Miracle’s first appearance was, indeed, in Mister Miracle #1… which was published in 1971, not 1941 as the Who’s Who pages claim. Similarly, The Harlequin’s Son didn’t actually debut in Infinity Inc. #1, back in 1984; there wasn’t a character of that name in the issue at all, despite anecdotal early plans by the series’ creator Roy Thomas in that direction. Along the same lines, there really wasn’t a Soviet version of the Green Lantern in the first issue of his solo series back in 1941, and even if there had been, he wouldn’t have been called Red Lantern — that name wasn’t used until Johns’ own time with the franchise in the mid-'00s.
If it seems as if Johns is playing fast and loose with DC mythology and history — in the real world as well as fictional ones — that appears to be the point. But there’s a further element to the Who’s Who pages, a further trick that might go unnoticed. For most of the characters in the pages, Johns is playing with material and concepts that are part of mainstream DC continuity, with characters that have been part of the central DC mythology for decades. That’s not the case for one particular character, though.
One of the new characters given a Who’s Who page is John Henry Jr., whose backstory is that he is the son of John Wilson, a character created by Darwyn Cooke for 2004’s critically acclaimed DC: The New Frontier miniseries. Wilson, who assumed the costumed identity of John Henry in the series — a Black man who survives a lynching by the Ku Klux Klan, going on to use the noose around his neck as part of his costume — was a new character created to replace Steel in his mid-20th century take on DC mythology, and someone who has previously not had a direct counterpart in the mainstream DCU… except, according to John Henry Jr’s Who’s Who page, John Wilson is now part of mainstream DC canon — and also related to Steel (whose secret identity is, of course, John Henry Irons), to boot.
(If you’re unfamiliar with DC: The New Frontier but find the origin of John Henry curiously familiar, it’s worth noting that the origin was lifted almost entirely and given to Hooded Justice in HBO’s Watchmen television show a few years back.)
Curiously, as if the stealth importing of DC: The New Frontier into DCU canon isn’t enough, there’s another surprise to be found on John Henry Jr’s Who’s Who page: he might be one of only two characters in the 13-page line-up whose 'First Appearance' data isn’t a lie. While The New Frontier didn’t establish without a doubt that John Wilson had a son, John Henry Jr’s first appearance is given as DC: The New Frontier #6 — and that issue does feature an unnamed character sitting at John Wilson’s grave. At the time, it was intended to be John Henry Irons as a kid (his shirt even says Irons), but… who’s to say that it’s not John Wilson’s own son…?
Johns released a statement about the Who’s Who pages, via DC: “The DC Universe should always be expanding with new characters and stories and worlds, no matter what era you’re visiting. Whether it’s the '40s or the 31st Century. The Who’s Who entries we’re including in The New Golden Age #1 are deeper looks at the origins of these new heroes and villains, and the mysteries they each hold within them. From the most prominent heroes of the Golden Age like Alan Scott, to the obscure like Red Bee, to the adventures of Justice Society Dark, we’re setting the stage for a new look at DC’s past, present and future. Hopefully people will have as much fun with it as we are.”
Take a look at some of the Who’s Who pages below, and expect more updates on the curious meta text inside The New Golden Age in coming weeks here on Popverse.
Want to know more about the New Golden Age at DC? Revisit the announcement of the line from earlier this year.