It occurred to me that, well, the Injustice League of the Bwa-ha-ha era of the Justice League was pretty much tailor-made for this column. If so, why have I only covered two of them, namely Big Sir and Major Disaster? OK, technically I covered all of them when I did the Justice League Antarctica entry, but the point stands.
Anyway, here’s the Cluemaster.
First appearing in Detective Comics #351 in May of 1966, Cluemaster was one Arthur Brown, failed game show host. Created by Silver Age legends Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino, Cluemaster had this plan to learn Batman’s secret identity, but he always left clues behind to his various crimes. You know, like the Riddler, only without the riddles. Those plans didn’t work, and Brown basically became a background character. And I mean that. Wikipedia even refers to him that way as a guy who gets slotted into backgrounds when some book needed a lot of villains.
Essentially, the Cluemaster was convinced he was smarter than everyone, so he left clues behind. Yes, that is basically the Riddler, but there’s one noteworthy difference: the Cluemaster was not insane. While Edward Nygma is compelled to leave riddles behind to point to an upcoming crime, Arthur Brown did so entirely by choice. Once he realized the clues were giving him away a little too easily, he gave them up. He’s not dropping clues as a member of the Injustice Gang, but those guys were supposed to be a bunch of losers. Put Brown back in a Batman book, and suddenly he’s a whole lot more dangerous.
That would be what happened in Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle’s Detective Comics #647 when a much more dangerous Cluemaster became a planner for other criminals in exchange for a 10% cut, and he even killed a guy at one point. Small problem: Arthur’s criminal ways didn’t appeal to his daughter Stephanie, so if he wasn’t going to leave clues behind, she would in her costumed identity as the Spoiler.
I probably should cover Stephanie Brown here one of these days.
Regardless, this Cluemaster was put on a Suicide Squad with the rest of his Injustice League teammates, and while it appeared that only Major Disaster survived their mission, Cluemaster turned up again in Gotham City because, well, he’s that smart.
And from there, he went back to being something of a joke again. Dixon had Cluemaster plans for the pages of Tim Drake’s book that never came to fruition after he abruptly left DC. As such, Cluemaster’s biggest role in a comic after this point came in the New 52-era Batman Eternal, a 52-part, weekly Batman comic story from writer Scott Snyder for Batman’s 75 anniversary that featured just about every character ever associated with Batman over his entire history save Dick Grayson, Damien Wayne, and the Joker, possibly because they were all considered dead at the time. In that story, Cluemaster of all people turned out to be the master villain behind all of Batman’s problems because he figured, correctly, if the major Bat-foes were all out causing trouble, Batman would never suspect a minor one was using them as cover to pull some big capers of his own. But that Cluemaster was then killed by an Owlman who had his own issues.
He did appear briefly in Tom King’s Batman run in a small, comedic role that involved Kite Man. He also tends to mess with Stephanie whenever she is doing heroic stuff sooner or later.
Yeah, I really need to cover Stephanie Brown at some point.
But Arthur has been seen in other places. For example, The Batman portrayed him as a former game show contestant for a kid game show who lived in his mother’s basement and was very bitter when he didn’t win, striking out later to get revenge after getting much larger in every conceivable direction, as voiced by the late Gary Shadix.
He has also popped up in live action, played by actor Rick Miller in the Batwoman TV show and by Ethan Embry for Gotham Knights.
I’m guessing they couldn’t use the Riddler for some reason in both of those cases.
Anyway, that’s the Cluemaster. He’s not the Riddler. He leaves clues.