Being something of a loner as a youth, I had a lot of time to think. And what I thought about were stories.
Most of those stories were no good, but some of them were pretty damn cool. Sadly, a bunch of them were the sorts of stories that had expiration dates on them. Mostly comic book stories that now no longer fit into any kind of continuity.
But I’ve decided to dig into my archives and give those stories some new life, presenting them here in a little feature I like to call…
DC Comics’s Crime Syndicate of America always seemed really cool to me. The basic premise was this: In an alternate universe (called Earth-3), there were no superheroes, only a group of villains resembling Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, and Batman. I always loved that concept.1
In a comic published in 1985, Earth-3 was destroyed, then retroactively (thanks to time travel) made to have never existed at all. Young Barry thought it was a shame to lose such great characters.
I spent some time thinking of ways to recreate the CSA2 for the new, post-Crisis DC Universe. At the time, alternate universe/parallel worlds were verboten at DC, so that option was out. I had to come up with something new.3
Cobbled together from my old notes, here’s what I came up with in 1987 or thereabouts. (I would have been around 15 or so at the time.)
The first question to solve: Where do these characters come from, if no longer from an alternate universe? I decided that Ultraman (the Superman doppelgänger) and Superwoman (the ersatz Wonder Woman) would both have the same origin — they would be slightly off-kilter clones of Superman and Wonder Woman, created by the same Operation: Changeling process introduced in Man of Steel. The process had been refined; it still wasn’t perfect, but it was better than when it had created Bizarro. As a result, we get characters who look sort of but not exactly like Superman and Wonder Woman, only with villainous intent.4
My thinking here was that Ultraman and Superwoman would be kept under lock and key by Lex Luthor as he figured out what to do with them. They would eventually fall in (villainous, twisted) love and decide to break out, eventually hooking up with the other CSAers, who were…
Power Ring — the alternate Green Lantern. Originally, Power Ring was a rip-off of Hal Jordan, with a similar ring. I couldn’t figure out how to make that work, post-Crisis, but I had another idea. In The Last Days of the Justice Society, the JSA had been written out of the universe, sent off to a limbo of sorts. I realized that Alan Scott (the Golden Age Green Lantern) didn’t have his lantern with him. Which meant it was still on Earth.
I decided that the new Power Ring would be a petty thief named “Scat” McKane5 who broke into Alan Scott’s abandoned home. In the past, Alan’s lantern had been shown to be somewhat sentient, so I had the idea that it would go a bit insane when losing the ring to limbo. As a result, its motives become warped…and instead of looking for a fearless man to do good, it becomes attracted to a fearful thief. It directs McKane to carve a ring from itself and voila! A new Power Ring.
Johnny Quick — I hung this particular hat on a peg of obscure DC trivia. Flash’s enemy Reverse-Flash didn’t have inborn super-speed powers — his powers came from the costume he wore. At this point in DC history, Reverse-Flash was dead…but what had happened to his costume? It was, as best I could tell, in an evidence lock-up in Central City.
So I decided that John Despacio, a crooked cop looking to destroy evidence against him, would find and steal the costume, modify it, and become Johnny Quick. Simple, right?
Owlman — This was the one I planned to have the most fun with. I absolutely loved the pre-Crisis Lex Luthor. Smartest man in the world, with gadgets galore. The post-Crisis evil businessman-cum-Kingpin version left me cold. So, rather than set up Owlman as an anti-Batman, I decided he would be closer in spirit to the original Lex Luthor, a scientific genius with a criminal bent. He would be the de facto leader of the group by dint of his intellect.
Now I had my characters. What was I going to do with them?
Looking back over my notes, I see that the original plan was for a four-issue mini-series. The Crime Syndicate’s ultimate plan was to kill Superman and install Ultraman in his place, step one in a plan to — mwha-ha-ha! — conquer the world.
Issue One: “Double You”
The first issue would have basically recounted the origin of Ultraman and Superwoman, leading up to them escaping from Lex Luthor’s clutches. It would have been titled “Double You.”6 Best of all, it would have ended with a defeated Luthor telling a flunky to file the information on Superwoman “under W.” With a closing shot of a file cabinet, the W drawer open…and “under W,” of course, would be a drawer labeled “X.”
It was customary for comics to have a little blurb saying “Next issue…” and something about the following issue. I would have had something like this…
Cool, right? (Throw 15-year-old me a bone here, people — say it’s cool.)
Issue Two: “X”
The second issue was, according to my notes, “about things proscribed, taboos.” I don’t know where I was going with that, but I do know that it would have recounted the origin of Johnny Quick, how he became corrupt, how he gave up everything good in his life. In the present, it would also reveal that Owlman — well-known in the criminal community — has been hired by Luthor to track down the missing clones. Owlman brings in Johnny Quick and Power Ring for muscle…and when all five meet, they decide to hell with Luthor, they’ll just team up. No honor among thieves!
Issue Three: “Why”
See? See how this works? Genius, I tell you!
In this issue, we’d get to see Power Ring’s origin and we’d also get to see something I thought was very cool. See, it’s established that power rings run off of willpower…but what if you didn’t have a very strong will? So, we’d have thought captions of Power Ring when he’s in flight and all he’s thinking is “Fly fly fly flyflyflyflyfly!!!” and “Don’t fall! Don’t fall!” Stuff like that. It’s hard for him to use the ring. He has to focus intensely. At one point, he’s flying along and Ultraman says something to him. It breaks his concentration and he almost plummets to his death.7
Anyway, the team gangs up on Superman and manages to capture him. Power Ring creates a cage made of kryptonite and they all settle in to watch the Man of Steel slowly die…
I bet you think the final issue was going to be titled “Z,” right? Well, you’re partway there.
Issue Four: “Z (Now I Know)”
Owlman speaks to the dying Superman, lording his superior intellect over the Man of Steel, recounting his own origin story — impoverished genius, misunderstood child, grows up loathing the world he was born into. Decides that the only way to make the world worth living in…is to rule it. So on and so forth. Knowledge is the ultimate power — it’s right there at the end of the alphabet, after all. You don’t just finish reciting the letters; you conclude with a statement of understanding. (I was going for the idea that Owlman was so freaking brilliant that he could build entire philosophies on a bit of child’s doggerel…so imagine what he could do with actual knowledge! I don’t think I made it quite work, but to this day, I think it’s an interesting idea.)
Superman escapes, of course. (I had some lame notion that Power Ring — being an idiot — has forgotten to recharge his ring, so it runs out of juice. Pretty sure I’d come up with something much better today.) Ultraman, Superwoman, and Power Ring are arrested, but Johnny Quick super-speeds Owlman and himself to safety.
Ta-da! End of mini-series, with just enough lingering loose ends to keep the characters viable for the future.
Speaking of the future… Yes, of course I wanted to spin the characters off into their own ongoing comic book series. I figured the first few issues would involve Owlman and Johnny Quick breaking their buddies out of jail. And since the group didn’t technically have an anti-Batman, I was going to dust off the character The Wrath and have him join the group.8 I also had vague plans to introduce an anti-Hawkman of my own creation called The Windhover, but I don’t remember anything about him other than the name.
One last thing: I remember that one issue of this ongoing series would have been a battle of wits between Owlman and Batman. Basically, Owlman hacks into the Batcave computer and tells Batman “There are 6 million people in Gotham City. I’m going to kill one of them by midnight tomorrow unless you figure out who it is first.”
No more clues. That’s it. One in six million. Solve that, World’s Greatest Detective!
Batman spends the issue on a tear, trying to figure out who it could be, looking for old connections to Owlman, etc. By the end of the issue, it’s 11:55 and he’s no closer to figuring it out. Back at the Batcave, he slumps at the computer in defeat.
Then, at the last minute, he types something.
We see Owlman’s response: “Nicely done. You’re correct.”
The last panel of the story would show us what Batman had typed: “The victim is ME.”
(Of course, people will ask: How was Owlman planning on killing Batman, especially since he was in the Batcave at midnight? Could he really have done that? And my reply is: It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Owlman showed that he could get under Batman’s skin.)
Anyway, that’s what I remember of my youthful attempt to reboot the Crime Syndicate of America. It’s a Story I Never Told…until now!
Crime Syndicate of America artwork by Paris Cullins & Terry Austin, from Who’s Who in the DC Universe Vol. V.
- The fact that Earth-3 had only villains and yet hadn’t been conquered by them was, I think, a comment on the enduring power of Good.↩
- How cool is it that a villainous group has the same initials as the Confederacy?↩
- In the decades since, alternate universes became OK again at DC, and the CSA was once again returned to its status as an other-dimensional, evil version of the Justice League.↩
- One of the things I dearly missed after Crisis was the pre-Crisis version of Krypton. So I established that Ultraman’s memories of Krypton were mangled by the cloning process, causing him to remember the pre-Crisis version.↩
- Where did that name come from? Beats the hell out of me!↩
- Because it’s about clones. Get it? Get it? Oh, Young Barry…↩
- Years later — now years ago — Geoff Johns nodded toward this idea when he showed Green Arrow using a Green Lantern ring and becoming exhausted by it. I love it when my young self is proven a genius retroactively.↩
- This is another instance where something I planned as a teenager eventually happened in the comics, as The Wrath did re-appear decades later.↩