Friday, March 9, 2012

The Barker 2000? Who Knew?

Well it's a glad day when I find out I've missed something, really!

A cover by Jack Cole.
Did you know that Quality's "The Barker" made a brief reappearance in 2005 at DC? (Thanks to James Robinson for the tip, BTW.) When I was writing the Quality Companion, I poo-pooed this feature initially, probably because I knew I'd have to read a lot of it and it wasn't a "super-hero" feature, per se. But once I dug in, I was hooked. Only the first two stories were written by Jack Cole, but Klaus Nordling eclipsed those stories and crafted a little world that I couldn't wait to revisit each time. Nordling's "Barker" was a fantastic mix of strange that bordered on super-hero. Many of the characters appeared to have super-powers but were revealed as shysters in the end. Fans clearly liked it too, because it lasted for over five years in National Comics #42–75 (May 1944–Dec. 1949) and The Barker #1-15 (Autumn 1945–Dec. 1949).

This wonderful four-part story by Mike Carey and John Lucas involved a new band of circus freaks led by another Irishman, Kitt Calahan. This was a four-part backup in Detective Comics #801-804, and some of the cast members were familiar.

The scene opened on Colonel Brand's Traditional Family Carnival, with Kieran "Kitt" Calahan (a new first name for the character), Midge, Painted Rose the tattooed contortionist, and Firestone the strong man. Kitt was about to drown his sorrows over the death of their friend, Mitchell Tomjohn the dog-faced boy, who was found dead that day. The police ruled his death an accident and the circus folk were angered when the local authorities refused to investigate further, so they decided to find justice themselves. (Detective #801)

The second Barker, Kitt Calahan ushers his doomed friend, Tomjohn, in to the tent. From Detective Comics #801 (2005). Art by John Lucas.

They investigated on two fronts, breaking into the police morgue, and scouring Tomjohn's trailer. Both yielded clues that pointed towards a would-be Senator, Rowley. (#802) It seems Tomjohn wasn't Mitchell's real name, but Mikhail Tamyanovic; he was a Croatian immigrant whom Rowley had "smuggled" into the country sometime earlier. But just Kitt and his friends were poised to extract more information, Rowley was shot to death from afar. Another shot hit Kitt in the arm. (#803)

With Calahan was out, the circus people looked to their most competent membefor guidance, Lena the fat woman. She realized that there was only one person in the circus capable of making a shot in the rain from a distance. At the same time, Kitt also realized that he was in the care of that killer—the Colonel himself! They extracted a confession from him but Kitt punched him so hard that the Colonel died on the spot. For his friend, Kitt took the fall and confessed to everything, ending in a prison cell. (#804) The cast of this drama was rounded out by the conjoined Twins, and Bones the gnarly headed brute


Calahan states that ever since the Flying Graysons were killed, carnie's won't pitch their tents in Gotham City. (The Flying Graysons were the family act of Dick Grayson, aka Robin/Nightwing.) He also mentions that Colonel's grandfather (perhaps a nod to the original Colonel Lane?) was with "Cole's" and his parents with Clyde Beatty, a real life animal trainer and showman.

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