Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Helmet. I just can't get past the helmet...

Well, once again, there is a reason this blog is called Random Happenstance, and not Timely Happenstance, or I would've talked about this character a couple months ago, before Watchmen came and went and anyone might've cared...

Peacemaker. The average comic reader could probably tell you that he was one of the Charlton Heroes purchased by DC, and in Watchmen the Comedian is based on Peacemaker. That, and he's got a terrible, terrible helmet. It's almost a perfectly serviceable, Judge Dredd-like helmet, but it looks like it has an additional clear plastic condom of a helmet on top of the first one. Just awful.
That second to last panel didn't turn out, did it?
And if you've ever thought the Charlton characters didn't receive the most respectful treatment from DC (in the current DCU, the Question and Blue Beetle are dead and replaced with new characters, and Captain Atom is missing and probably evil) well, Peacemaker was paving the way there. He didn't have a ton of appearances before he was killed off in a super-hero massacre in Eclipso, but in his first DCU guest-spots in Vigilante, Peacemaker believed the ghosts of those he had killed lived in his helmet. I guess that's why he needed the extra helmet. Peacemaker, real name Christopher Smith, formerly Schmidt; was later cured of that delusion, but wasn't done being crazy yet: he was haunted, taunted by the ghost of his father, who had been an SS commandant of a concentration camp in World War II.

I find it interesting that while there certainly are ghosts in the DC Universe (the Spectre or Deadman, for example) most people who see them are still crazy, and Peacemaker certainly was. He was so over the top crazy, he would've made Rorschach look reasonable and sane. Further adding to his problems (on multiple levels) Smith served in Vietnam, with distinction, until a village massacre that led to a life sentence. (A WWII veteran father and Vietnam tour of duty would tie Smith to real-world dates, and make him a bit old for superheroing. Granted, in his MAX series, the Punisher is in the same boat, but Frank doesn't traditionally fight super-villains, or wear a stupid helmet.) After a couple years in prison, Smith volunteered for a top-secret military program called the Peacemaker Force; which was decommissioned before it even began. Except Smith didn't go back to prison, he simply wandered off and made a go of it himself.

It seems like a trade off that didn't quite work: the Nazi ghost may have seemed like an edgy hook, since Peacemaker's slogan, "He loves Peace so much he'll kill for it!" and Rambo tactics would've already been old hat by the time of his limited series in 1987, and as far as America knew, "terrorists" were convenient multi-ethnic bad guys for movies, video games, and comic books. The terrorists, led by cardboard Asian baddie Dr. Tzin-Tzin, were more racially diverse than the Justice League was at the time...But, as seen in this fight scene from issue #3, the ghost of Smith's father simultaneously disparages and cheers on his son (in the previous issue's cliffhanger, the head goon bets Peacemaker can't take 20-to-1 odds, and Smith's dad doesn't bite) while being a racist bastard, as you'd expect a Nazi to be. Still, that makes it harder to sympathize with Peacemaker, even if he doesn't appear to have his father's prejudices.

This isn't a good series, no: Dr. Tzin-Tzin's plot is overly complicated and stupid (your hoary old 'get the U.S. and U.S.S.R. to destroy each other and then take over in the anarchy that follows' plot), Smith has a whole support team (somehow) to repair his gear and try to keep him relatively sane--his psychiatrist dresses up as a maid, so Smith will talk to her without feeling threatened or judged--and while this is ostensibly in the DC Universe, there's no interaction even though the causalities are pretty high. Well, it was Europe, not Star City, I suppose. And the art isn't great, either. But it's at least an interesting failure: they were trying to do something with the character, and while it may not have taken off, it certainly wasn't for lack of trying.

Did I mention he had a jetpack? Yeah, Peacemaker had a jetpack.

Peacemaker #1-4 (1987) Written by Paul Kupperberg, pencils by Tod Smith, inks by Pablo Marcos. I have to admit, I do kind of like the covers, particularly #2 and #3, both of which portray Peacemaker as a gung-ho, guns-blazing, keep 'em flying kind of hero; not the psychotic mess he actually was.

(By the way, I had the Fu Manchu-looking Dr. Tzin-Tzin, who had occasionally fought Batman and others, confused with Dr. Moon, who brainwashed Catwoman in stories that don't fit into continuity at all yet still make more sense than Zatanna-mindwipes.)


SallyP said...

What the Hell? The helmet rather reminds me of Orion's but without that Kirby grandeur.

googum said...

There's an argument to made on whether the helmet made him a drooling psychotic, or if only a drooling psychotic would wear that helmet...I know there's a new Peacemaker in Blue Beetle, but pretty sure he doesn't have it.

SallyP said...

Nope, Peacemaker from the new Blue Beetle, is quite awesome all on his own.