Page 1. This page gives us a look at the major mystic/magic characters of the DC Universe, and their Nail analogues, as well as explaining where they've been, and why they haven't appeared so far.
Panel 1. The character with the golden helmet is Dr. Fate. He first appeared in More Fun Comics #55; Dr. Kent Nelson was investigating a temple in Mesopotamia when he discovered the body of Nabu, an ancient wizard who was actually a Lord of Order (one of the two duelling forces in the Universe). Nabu trained Nelson to become a sorcerer, and to fight for the cause of Order. In more recent years Dr. Fate's relationship with Lords of Order became troubled, but such seems not to be the case with the Dr. Fate of the Nail, as seen in his statement that he will "alert the other guardians of Order" (although that may simply be a reference to other heroes, who can be said to be upholding a sort of order of their own). Alan Davis says, about this line, that
Panel 2. The character on the left is the Phantom Stranger. He was first introduced in The Phantom Stranger v1 #1; his origin has never been exactly determine, and theories range from his being a fallen angel to the Wandering Jew. He almost always acts as an observer to events, rather than an active agent (as with Etrigan's description of the Stranger in panel 3, and the Stranger's response that he is only "a humble guide").
Panel 3. The red and orange creature is Etrigan the Demon, who was first seen in The Demon #1. Etrigan was a demon from Hell who was magically bound by Merlin and trapped in the form of a man, Jason Blood. Although a demon, his characterization has usually been more ambiguous, with Etrigan acting for both good and evil, depending on circumstances.
Etrigan speaks here in rhyme. Whether he has always spoken in rhyme or not (I've heard conflicting reports on this), the modern meaning of his rhyming, as defined by Alan Moore in Swamp Thing, is an indicator of Etrigan's rank in Hell.
Etrigan's description of the Phantom Stranger as "he who walks twixt Heaven and Hell" is reminiscent of his Alan Moore-scripted description of the Phantom Stranger in Swamp Thing Annual #2, although I'm sure the Demon and the Stranger have met since then, and the Demon has taunted the Stranger with similar words.
Panel 4. The thin white character is Deadman, who was introduced in Strange Adventures #205. Boston Brand was an aerialist who was murdered in mid-performance by a man with a steel hook for a hand. Brand's spirit was given the power, by the "Eastern deity" Rama Kushna, to possess bodies, as a way to avenge his murder and then later to act as a "balancing agent between the forces of good and evil."
Brand, in spirit form, is invisible, and so few heroes are aware of his existence - but these are magical and magic-using figures, and so naturally know who and what he is.
Brand's characterization here, as someone more involved with day-to-day matters than the Stranger, Dr. Fate, and Etrigan, is in line with his DC Universe counterpart.
Page 2. The giant white character with the green robes is the Spectre, who was first introduced in More Fun Comics # 52. The Spectre was originally Jim Corrigan, a policeman who was murdered in the line of duty and was given the power to avenge himself on evil by the Voice. It was later revealed that he was the incarnated Wrath of God, sent to Earth to avenge the murdered dead.
The Spectre's characterization here, and on page 3, is in line with his DC Universe characterization; most of the time he has acted to avenge murders, but on occasion he was stopped heroes from committing acts that would have upset the "natural order."
Page 3. Panel 2. The "Rama Kushna" Deadman names here is the Eastern Deity who gave him his powers and mission.
Panel 4. As Deadman says, the Spectre used to be human; before his murder, he was a policeman.
Alan Davis says, about pages 1-3,
Page 4. Panel 4. Alan Davis says, about Coretta, that she is
Panel 6 The three characters introduced here are, in the DC Universe, part of the Swamp Thing cast of characters.
Matt Cable, in the DC Universe, was a government agent who was protecting Doctors Alec and Linda Holland while they were performing certain experiments. Cable's protection of the Hollands slipped, and they were killed. Cable later went on to marry Abigail Arcane (see below), was eventually killed and became the raven companion of Dream of the Endless (of Sandman v2).
Abigail Cable, in the DC Universe, was the niece of Anton Arcane, an evil alchemist who was the arch-enemy of the Swamp Thing. She eventually married Matt Cable and became friends with the Swamp Thing, and when her marriage to Cable became troubled, and he was rendered comatose, she became the Swamp Thing's lover, eventually giving birth to his daughter (by way of John Constantine).
Doctor Alec Holland, in the DC Universe, was a scientist who was working on a plant-growth causing "bio-restorative formula" when he was killed by agents of a criminal organization. Some swampland was soaked with the formula during Holland's death, and that, along with Holland's body, caused the swamp to form a humanoid plant-creature who thought it was Alec Holland - the Swamp Thing.
There are some interesting variations here in the world of the Nail from the DC Universe. Matt Cable, in the DC Universe, was a government agent (I don't know if he was with the "C.D.A.," however) before the Hollands were killed. Presumably, with the deaths of the Hollands being prevented by Wonder Woman (see page 5, panel 2, below), the Hollands are still a couple, and in the absence of the Swamp Thing Matt & Abby would remain married.
Alan Davis says that
Shall we assume, from Alec Holland's haircut, that certain 1970s styles still haven't gone out of fashion? :-)
Page 5. Panel 1. The "bio-restorative serum" is, in the DC Universe, the secret formula that the Hollands were working on at the time of their death. Its purpose was to stimulate the growth of plants (hence its effect on the swamp).
Panel 2. The Conclave, in the DC Universe, was a criminal organization who first attempted to buy the secrets to the bio- restorative formula from the Hollands; when they refused to sell it to the Conclave, agents of the Conclave blew up the Hollands and the shack in which they were working in the Louisiana swamp. Obviously, with Wonder Woman capturing the Conclave agents who found out about the bio-restorative formula, the Hollands' experiments would not be discovered, Alec Holland would not be killed, and there would be no Swamp Thing (Alan Davis confirms this). Which would, in turn, explain why bad things could be happening to the world's flora and fauna (see page 28, panel 7 below) without the Swamp Thing intervening.
Page 7. Panel 1. The six robots seen here were first introduced in Showcase #37; collectively they are the Metal Men. They are, from left to right: Tin, Platinum, Lead, Told, Mercury, and Iron. They are sentinet robots made from a different metal who are the creation of Doctor Will Magnus (mentioned in issue #2). They are able to alter their shapes, as seen here.
Page 9. Panel 3. Wonder Woman, in the DC Universe, has always had the ability to deflect bullets with her bracelets; traditionally, in the DCU, it is learned, on Paradise Island (Wonder Woman's home) in the game "Bullets and Bracelets," which was the supreme test of the Amazons.
Panel 7. I confess that, although the helmet on the character in black looks familiar, I can't quite place it. Alan Davis says that
Page 10. Panel 3. The character on the left of the panel is Professor Hamilton, last seen in issue #2. The character in the middle of the panel is Dr. Will Magnus, the inventor of the Metal Men.
Panel 4. Rather than spoil anything, I'll save my take on the Liberators (catchy name, that) for page 20, panel 6, below.
Alan Davis says that
Page 11. Panel 2. In the DC Universe Carter and Shayera Hall - Hawkman and Hawkwoman - became co-directors of the Midway City Museum.
Page 12. Panel 1. In the DC Universe Hawkman and Hawkwoman, although trained Thanagarian police agents with extremely advanced weaponry, preferred to use duplicates of ancient Earth weapons: maces, nets, and the like. The weapons case to the left of the model of Hawkman may be some of his weapons. (Alan Davis confirms that they are his weapons)
Page 17. Panel 1. Vicky Vale was first introduced in Batman #49; she was a news photographer, and later reporter, who was an ongoing love-interest for Bruce Wayne and the Batman, as well as someone determined to prove that Bruce Wayne and Batman were the same person. I don't know what her status is post-Crisis/Zero Hour.
Her name, traditionally, was spelled "Vicki" or "Vickie" Vale.
Page 18. Panel 5. Alan Davis described the Batman's killing of the Joker, in issue #1 of The Nail, as "wish fulfilment" on his part. Perhaps this, too, is a way of making a long-held but impossible (in current DC continuity) wish come true, as well? Alan Davis says that he
Page 20. Panel 6. The secret of the Liberators revealed at last: they are "cloned replicants" of Kryptonians, which explains their superpowers. (We know they are "super-robots," so presumably they are programmable biological robots, or cyborgs).
The metatextual secret to the face of the Liberator robot in panel 6 is that it is a duplicate of the face of Bizarro. Bizarro was introduced in Action Comics #254; he was created when Lex Luthor used a Duplicator Ray on Superman. The Ray created an imperfect duplicate of Superman, composed of lifeless matter but possessing Superman's powers and his distorted memory. Luthor called this creature "Bizarro," and it left for its own planet: Bizarro World. Bizarro's face was white, angular, and ugly, just as the Liberator's is.
Similarly, in DC continuity Superman, pre-Crisis had a series of super-powered androids, all wearing Superman costumes, which he built to carry out tasks for him and, when necessary, impersonate him. The central villain of The Nail would seem to have built his own set of Liberator super-robots, just as Superman did; however, without Superman's genius, the robots became Bizarros.
A version of these super-robots can be seen in the Alan Moore Supreme with the Suprematons. The Suprematons, like the Liberators, all had a number designation; I do not recall whether Superman's super-robots also had number designations.
I do not know the significance of the symbols on the Liberator's forehead, beyond their Kryptonian derivation. Alan Davis points out that
Alan Davis also has the following to say about these annotations in general:
Page 22. Panel 1. So the starfish-shaped figure at the end of Nail #2 was not, in fact, Starro at all, but Krypto. Mr. Davis, that's nasty and neat.
Krypto, in pre-Crisis DC continuity, was the faithful animal companion of Superman. He first appeared in Adventure Comics #210; on Krypton he was a puppy, given to Kal-El (aka Superman) by Jor-El (Kal-El's father) and later put into a test rocket by Jor-El and sent into space as a test. The rocket was knocked out of orbit by a meteor and was drawn to Earth through the spacewarp which the rocket of the baby Kal-El opened. When Krypto reached Earth he followed Kal-El's scent and became his pet.
Page 23. Panel 4. "Faster than a speeding bullet," of course, has traditionally been one of the attributes credited to Superman, but in his presence it makes sense that the Flash, the "fastest man on Earth," would be given that label.
Alan Davis says,
Page 24. Panel 2. The costume that Catwoman is wearing here is very close to the costume of the pre-Crisis DC Universe Batwoman, who a heroine on Earth-2 and was the love-interest and eventual wife to the Batman of Earth-2.
Page 25. Panel 3. The object on the table in the right of the panel, the one "Jimmy" points out as the "alien craft," is very similar to the craft, in DC continuity, that brought the baby Kal-El to Earth.
Panel 4. The "bizarre super-man. Mindless. Soulless. Yet possessing God-like powers" described here is an apt description of the DC continuity Bizarro; apparently attempts to duplicate Kryptonians are bound to go wrong no matter what universe one's in.
Page 26. Panel 7. In post-Zero Hour DC continuity the Krypton Man was the artificial intelligence of a Kryptonian artifact called the Eradicator. When Superman encountered the Eradicator, it tried to change Superman into a true Kryptonian (something he is far from being today). Superman threw the Eradicator into the sun, but the Eradicator's a.i. survived and assumed humanoid form; it called itself the Krypton Man, and attempted to reshape Earth and turn it into a second Krypton. Jimmy Olsen is the Krypton Man of the world of The Nail.
Alan Davis says that
Page 32. Panel 6. This characterization of Jimmy, and his comments on page 27, makes a lot of sense, although it's obviously one we've never seen in continuity comics before. Jimmy did have a lot of experience as a hero and adventurer, but he was continually snubbed, and never asked to join, for example, the JLA, even as a mascot. The continuity Jimmy Olsen, of course, was too good-natured for this sort of resentment, but some resentment is, after all, logical. And human.
Page 35. Panel 5. Yes, there are Amish in Kansas.
Page 36. Panel 1. Kal El, in DC continuity, is (of course) Superman.
Page 42-43. Alan Davis points out that the statement "We should have been friends"
Page 44. Panel 1. Arisia, Tomar Re, Chummuck, Katma Tui, and the other Green Lantern were last seen in issue #2 of The Nail.
Panel 2. I trust Darkseid's fate will be discussed at some point, *somewhere*? A sequel, maybe?
Page 45. Panel 3. Batman's words here, of course, apply to himself as well as to Kal El.
Pages 46-47. These are all the characters released from the Kansas facility, and which we saw in previous issues.
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