Sliding timelines in cartoons: the Mad Mod and Soviet villains

On the heels of my sliding timeline entries on Superboy, “The Simpsons” and “FoxTrot,” let’s look at the effects of sliding timelines on characters who (unlike Batman or Superman) have some aspect of their general nature too strongly tied to a specific era to get rid of, but are still presented as still young, similar-age contemporaries of characters like Batman or Superman.

This differs from simply being shown as much older than the younger characters they hang around with (such as the World War II-tied Justice Society versus the youthful Justice League, or World War II veteran Grandpa Simpson versus his son Homer on “The Simpsons”), and can lead to some awkward handwaving, or just plain oddness.

The Flower Power era and Teen Titans foes

Teen Titans #17
“Teen Titans” #17 (October 1968). Art by Nick Cardy.

One example of this is the Silver Age Teen Titans villain the Mad Mod. First appearing in “Teen Titans” (volume 1) #17 in 1967, the Mad Mod was a Carnaby Street fashion designer who used his fashions as part of several crimes, before (per Wikipedia) going straight. Of course, even in Silver Age continuity, the Mad Mod’s shtick was quickly dated and problematic (given the age of his teenage foes), especially by the 80s (once they moved Superboy’s time-era up to the Sixties).

The Wikipedia article seems to infer that these days, the Mad Mod’s outfits and shtick are merely considered “retro”, though it still doesn’t change his anachronistic nature. Nor that of fellow 60s Titans foe “Ding Dong Daddy,” a villain based on the 60s drag-racing scene. By the time of the New 52 reboot in 2011, the modern superhero era was only about 12 years old, thus it only stretched back to circa-1999. This would make the Titans running into this guy even odder, taking the 60s stories at face value.

The “Teen Titans” TV series, on the other hand, used the Mad Mod fairly differently—as an elderly person disguised as a young person, trying to relive his Swinging Sixties glory days by being something of an “evil Austin Powers,” complete with at one point trying to change the United States to resemble 1960s-era England.

There’s also an issue of the “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” comic that presented the Mad Mod as someone who’d time-traveled back to the 1960s. There, the Mod not only fights an also-time-traveling Batman, but also minor 1960s DC heroes Brother Power the Geek and Super-Hip.

The Cold War and Soviet villains

KGBeast
From “Who’s Who: Update ’88 #2” (September 1988). Art by Jim Aporo.

Another example of such sliding timeline hijinks are characters who were inspired by the Soviet Union (or Cold War), but are still treated as similar-age contemporaries of characters not tied to a specific era (like Batman).

One such character is Batman foe the KGBeast. First appearing in “Batman” #417 in 1988 (during the waning days of the USSR), the KGBeast (real name: Anatoli Knyazev) was a highly trained and cybernetically-enhanced assassin given such training/enhancements by some secret section of the KGB. The Beast eventually was sent to Gotham City to try to kill various US government officials pushing the Star Wars program, including then-President Reagan. Yes, about half of that previous sentence is as dated as the cassette Walkman.

As far as I can find online, no real explanation or handwaving of any of this has been done—such as substituting Clinton, Bush Jr., or Obama for Reagan; claiming the KGBeast is actually much older than he appears; and so forth. Of course, it’s been well over 20 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, and the modern DCU now takes place entirely well post-Cold War.

Adding to this, the KGBeast somehow resulted in a related spin-off character, the “NKVDemon” (named after the former Soviet secret police agency), who also had a general pro-Soviet-communism agenda. The NKVDemon’s first appearance involves trying to kill former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev.

Despite his dated aspects, the KGBeast has managed to make his way into spin-off media, including the CW series “Arrow.” That show seems to avoid using the name “KGBeast,” instead claiming Knyazev was a former KGB agent and now the leader of a big Russian crime mob. While it still gives him a somewhat dated element, it does make Knyazev less tied to a defunct Soviet government organization.

All in all, the KGBeast and NKVDemon seem to stick out like sore thumbs.That said, reading about the two Soviet villains did lead me to learn a bit about Cold War-era Russia, including that there even was an agency called the NKVD, in researching this post. The KGBeast: villainous and dated, but educational!

(Updated 9/3/16)

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