December 4, 2021

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Characters Case File #350: Johnny Sorrow

The Justice Society had a villain who was not as old as he was supposed to be.

So, here we are, the big 350th entry, and after a couple weeks off, surely I have a good one saved up?

Well, maybe.  Let’s talk about Johnny Sorrow, a character presented as a Golden Age JSA villain who, well, wasn’t.

Johnny Sorrow popped up initially to battle the newly reborn Justice Society with a backstory that suggested he’d been around for ages and long fought the team.  But, that wasn’t quite true.  Johnny’s first appearance was in Secret Origins of Super-Villains 80 Page Giant #1, dated December of 1999.  Johnny had a backstory that was retconned into existence as a Golden Age villain that, well, scared the crap of heroes and villains alike.  Dressed stylishly in a red suit with what looked like no head aside from a floating red mask, Johnny had a number of supernaturally-based powers, such as intangibility and teleportation, psychic manipulation, and some other abilities related to his powers’ sponsor.  Most notably, Sorrow’s face caused instant death to anyone who looked on it if he took his mask off.

Now, something like that sounds rather powerful, but once I was part of a DC-based round-robin storytelling group as a next-generation Justice League, so during a bull session, I asked the fellow writing as Hourman what he thought of Johnny Sorrow, and his answer was, well, Sorrow wasn’t that impressive because the powers limited him quite a bit.  No matter how much writer Geoff Johns kept pulling the guy out as a threat (and it was always Geoff Johns), Sorrow was never going to use his fatal face on a main character, only supporting characters who popped in as needed just to die and show off how tough Johnny Sorrow was supposed to be.  That…is a very good point, actually.

Besides, there actually have been a few people who saw his face and survived.  Dr. Mid-Nite, as a blind man with a way of being able to see only in the dark, was able to look on his face without any problems, even recording an image of it to show to Sorrow himself, stunning the stylish baddie because apparently even he can’t look at his own face without repercussions.  Harley Quinn saw it and shrugged it off because she was insane.  The Spectre is already dead, so he had no problems.  And Captain Atom got a glimpse once, but his powers just shot him into the future unharmed as they always do when he absorbs too much energy.

So, really, he was a bit limited in what he could do aside from being a creepy mastermind.

As for his backstory, he was originally a silent movie actor who lost work when talkies came around, so he turned to crime.  And after stealing one of those experimental things you should never steal, he ended up in an alternate dimension where some Lovecraftian monstrosity called the King of Tears offered him power.

That would be this thing.

Also, Johnny can summon that thing and its minions when he needs to because he isn’t creepy enough.

Now, Johnny for all his power seems to be the kind of guy who founds or joins teams and partnerships.  One of his initial attacks on the JSA saw him as head of a Injustice Society, he teamed up with Despero to battle both the JLA and JSA, and in the New 52, he was said to be one of the original members of the Suicide Squad.

This is not a team that would appear to be dying for anyone any time soon.

But his whole thing is, essentially, he’s a very old character.  Except he isn’t, but it isn’t hard to see how such a character can be created.  There are all kinds of forgotten Golden Age characters, and he doesn’t have a look that seems impossible for someone to have come up with in the 40s.  And for that, well, he gets the 350th slot for this feature.  It’s not much of a consolation prize, but he isn’t a real person, so I don’t think he’ll mind.

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